LOS ANGELES -- He's bigger than he looks on TV, which shouldn't come as a surprise. He has been working out three times a day and force-feeding himself protein shakes after each meal. If the fascination with Trae Young was rooted in his wispiness, the goal now is to make him thicker and more physically substantial. An actual chest has become visible through the outlines of his workout gear. At 178 pounds (with aspirations to begin next season at 186), Young can bench-press 185 pounds between 12 and 15 times, according to his strength coach. The pre-draft version of Kevin Durant, c. 2007, couldn't do that once.
Then again, the basis for comparison isn't Durant. It's Stephen Curry. As measured at their respective combines, Young is 6-foot-1¾ in shoes, an inch and a half shorter than Curry and 3 pounds lighter. He's only 19, though. Curry was 21 when he went to Golden State with the seventh pick. The real similarities, however, seem less about measurables and more about aesthetics: mesmerizing ballhandling skills and shooting ranges that defy body type. Even 35 feet from the hoop, you can see traces of the children they once were, struggling to get the ball to the rim. The game they play is daring and improvisational, brilliance born of endless repetition -- the perfection of a style that began with Pete Maravich.
Young is seen as the first child of the Curry generation. That's a thankless label. But it's also a template for his prospective success, fortifying his standing as a probable lottery pick while inciting expectations that he isn't a player so much as a nascent brand. After all, who'd chance passing on the next Steph?
YOUNG IS GOD-FEARING and well-adjusted, the product of a close-knit family. Like Curry's, his father was a ballplayer. But Young is nursing a dose of resentment that suggests the task ahead will have less to do with his physique than his psyche.
"I think they just forget what I did," he says. "I think they think what I did is easy."
They, of course, refers to the usual unspecified amalgam of fans and media types. What I did, however, stands as a singular accomplishment. No one ever led the NCAA in both points and assists in a single season -- until Trae Young, averaging 27.4 points and 8.7 assists as a freshman at Oklahoma.
There was another first, too. Nobody had gone from prodigy to bust so quickly. Perhaps it's a symptom of social media, or maybe something else, but Young's fall -- like his rise -- was only a matter of weeks, really. Around New Year's -- with Oklahoma 11-1 and ranked No. 7 in the AP poll -- he was a front-runner for the Wooden Award. If Kobe Bryant was an iteration of Michael Jordan, here was Son of Steph. Then in March, the Sooners' first-round loss in the NCAA tournament -- their eighth loss in 10 games -- was taken as an immutable verdict on the life and career of Trae Young, who also led the nation in turnovers: undersized, overhyped.
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"It was super tough, to be honest," he says.
What happened on the court was easy to explain, at least to himself: "The defenses changed. They dialed in and understood if they could slow me down, it helped their chances of winning. They started picking me up earlier, trapping me, face-guarding me when I passed.
"The NBA won't be the same. ... Defenses won't be able to focus on one or two guys. They won't be able to double all the time."
For the record, then, Young's vision of himself remains undiminished: "I have an extreme amount of confidence. I don't necessarily know where I'll be, but I want to do something that's never been done, like I did this year in the college game ... not just be another rookie, but do something that's never been done before.
"I want to lead the NBA in points and assists."
For Young, it's still basketball -- pretty simple, actually. More difficult to comprehend was the nature of sudden fame and the velocity of changing expectations. Growing up in Norman, Oklahoma, he was a local celebrity by the time he matriculated at OU. But he could feel a seismic shift in the way he was perceived.
"It starts with some people knowing you," he says. "Then everybody thinks they know you, and they're all on your side. Then everybody knows you, and nobody's on your side. It gets to the point where it's not basketball. It's more personal."
At no time did it seem more personal than on Feb. 13 at Texas Tech, his father's alma mater, where the student section broke into a thunderously witless chant of "F--- you, Trae Young."
"I don't get it," Young says. "I never did anything to the people in Lubbock. I was born there."
TRAE, APTLY NAMED, is the third in a line of point guards. His grandfather, Rayfield, was playing at Western Oklahoma when, at 20, he found himself a suddenly expectant father and retired to the oil fields of his native Pampa, Texas. Trae's father, Ray, won a state championship for Pampa High School and a scholarship to Texas Tech, where, at 20, he too became a father.
It was not an uncomplicated courtship for Ray and the future Mrs. Candice Young. She was a preacher's daughter. She was white. "Both our families were a little nervous and scared for us," Ray says. "Me being an athlete helped. I was more accepted."
On Feb. 13, 1999, after Ray scored 41 in a victory over Kansas, Candice handed baby Trae to family members so she could join the celebration on the court. If that was a high point in the family's basketball saga, the low came two years later in Verona, Italy.
Ray was playing for the visiting Portuguese team. He went up for a layup, took a hard foul and came down on the inside of his foot. "I didn't feel it at first," he recalled. "Then I look at my foot, and it's turned" -- dangling, more like it -- "at a 45-degree angle."
He could see blood seeping through his sock. The tibia and fibula had severed above his right ankle. A 5-foot-11 guard, Ray would attempt several comebacks, the last of them at the Cleveland County YMCA in Norman, where he came to coach and finish his degree in business marketing. "I'm playing in the men's league, still trying to get that dream out of my system, hoping to get a call from an agent," Ray says. "Trae's 5 or 6 by now. I remember him just sitting on a ball, watching me."
As it happened, Ray Young went on to sell medical supplies, providing a comfortable, suburban life for his four children with Candice. "None of my kids ever wanted for anything," he says.
In Trae's case, however, all he ever really wanted was basketball. He tried soccer and Little League and, for a time, seemed to love football. But basketball, he says, "is what I was called to do. I was just always around the game. Even when my dad was playing overseas, I'd be at my grandfather's house, watching the NBA with him."
No one told him to play; no one had to. In due course, Ray was driving Trae to North Dallas or South Tulsa to play against tougher competition than he'd find in a college town such as Norman. Ray put him through the paces -- cone drills and such -- in early-morning sessions at the Y. And when it came time for Trae to develop a floater, Ray had him shoot over a broomstick. At Norman North High School, they began shooting around the night before home games.
The shootarounds remain their time to talk. The only subject that doesn't come up is Ray's right ankle and the nature of his regret. "I never wanted to put that on him," Ray says, "how hurt and depressed I was."
Besides, that pain pales in comparison to what the father endured this past season, hearing the vitriol directed toward his progeny. There's no single explanation. Fans are fans. But there are other elements as well, he senses. "It's perception," Ray says. "I hate to bring up race, but that has something to do with it. His background also has something to do with it."
Translation: too middle class to have much street cred, too black to be a white hope.
"I don't know how to say it," Trae says, "but I feel like I'm not on either side."
Williams details Young's NBA readiness
Jay Williams breaks down the upside that makes Trae Young ready for the next level.
LAST SUMMER, TRAE Young came to the attention of veteran strength and conditioning coach Travelle Gaines, whose pre-draft clients have included nine NBA first-rounders and five overall No. 1s in the NFL. "Scrawny," Gaines recalled. "He didn't look like a basketball player. He looked like a model."
The parties agreed to keep in touch. While Gaines had initial doubts as to whether he could fashion Young's skinny body into an NBA physique, Young's record-setting freshman season piqued his interest. He liked the kid. What's more, he liked the father. He came to consider Ray Young the antidote to LaVar Ball. Most of the time, you don't even know he's there. "He just lets you do your work," Gaines says. "It's not about him. It's about his son."
Toward that end, Gaines has been working with Trae since March 21. In that time, Young's body fat has dropped from 7.7 percent to 5.2 while his muscle mass has grown. His weight has gone as high as 183. "I pushed him every day," Gaines says, "and he's never backed down."
In the morning, with skills coach Alex Bazzell, Young goes through defenders like sparring partners. The afternoon sessions, with Gaines presiding, focus on balance, strength and endurance. Young runs, presses and pulls -- high reps with resistance bands, to the point of exhaustion. Then he stands for an inordinate amount of time like a one-legged crane with kettlebells. There's single-leg work: squat to press, Roman dead lift. As Young puts up off-balance shots, the idea is to make him as strong on one leg as other players are on two. Targeted muscles include glutes, quads, hamstrings, chest and shoulders. His less-wispy self must be refashioned to withstand the rigors of professional basketball. He needs to hold his spot, absorb contact, take a hit.
But that's the easy part -- physical enhancement through repetition. At 19, Young gets it, just as he understands the role he has been assigned. That too will prove relatively easy work. He'll play The Next Steph Curry until he's eventually seen as The First Trae Young -- whoever that turns out to be.
The hard part won't be conditioning the musculature; it'll be training the mind. Real toughness isn't a matter of reps. Nor can it always be taught. Sometimes it has to be inflicted, on the road, in places such as Lubbock.