Trae Young and the making of a celebrity college basketball player

Photo via Rob Ferguson - USA Today Sports

Pompous pull-ups from 30 plus, high-floating layups with improbable angles and perfect touches of English, step-back jumpers over outstretched hands. Swish. I’m not talking about Steph Curry, and this isn’t under the bright lights of the Bay Area. Believe it or not, this is college basketball in the last place you would expect it.

Deep in the heartland of football country, the eyes of the basketball world have descended upon a short, skinny 19-year-old with an unorthodox jump-shot and overt confidence. We’ve seen this story before. And now, everyone wants to be a part of it. These days, it seems like anybody who’s anybody in basketball has something to say about Trae Young.

“Keep going young King!! Don’t stop fam!!” exclaimed the current King of the NBA, Lebron James, on Instagram, laying early claim to a prince that could potentially be primed to one day take the throne.

“He’s unbelievable,” Steph Curry told Bleacher Report, the player Young had so clearly studied meticulously and endlessly. “I call it ‘the flair.’… when I turn on the game, [I’m] just watching him on the floor, where he is at all times.”

“He has early eyes,” repeated ESPN college basketball broadcaster Fran Fraschilla over and over as Young made one miraculous no-look pass after another in Oklahoma’s game against Alabama this past Saturday.

“If you know an NBA scout, he was in Tuscaloosa this past weekend,” declared ESPN announcer Rece Davis, a statement that would have been unfathomable just three months ago.

In the latest tally, 57 NBA scouts traveled to Alabama’s home court to watch Trae Young and fellow top prospect Collin Sexton battle it out this past Saturday afternoon. Both players are projected lottery picks in the next NBA draft, and both possess an undeniable appeal and charisma.

Just like Sexton, Young had turned down offers from perennial powerhouses to stay local. And now, at the same time these titans of industry played their Saturday games, the attention of college basketball was diverted away to a matchup most often associated with football.

Young did not want to be just another product in the basketball prospect machines of Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari or Bill Self. Here is a player who is confident enough in his ability to take the road less travelled, who did not want to simply fit into a proven formula.

It is refreshing. Young wasn’t going to just be the next guy, he was going to be the guy. In what is a rarity nowadays, the young man is playing his one-and-done season with purpose, his home state proudly displayed on the front of his jersey.

This passion radiates in his style of play. The way Young controls his tight handle, finds the open man with his head turned in a different direction and flicks his shot from his shoulders all seem effortless.

At the same time, Young always looks like the player on the floor who is working the hardest. He jabs at opponents, waves play-calls vigorously and runs around the floor in an endless pursuit of the basketball. When the ball is in his hands, as it so often is, he is a perfectionist who consistently pries and probes for just the smallest space he needs to let it fly.

Unlike many of his fellow top prospects, Young’s presence is always felt on the court. Curry referred to this as his “magnetism.” Despite struggling in the first half of the Alabama game, only scoring five points, Young was still very much in control. On one telling play, Oklahoma freshmen Brady Manek caught the ball at the top of the key. Young ran behind Manek looking for a handoff, and when he was denied, swooped around the right side of the court and then through the paint under the basket, finally concluding his journey in the opposite weakside corner.

In the process, Young had drawn the help of a second defender, leaving big man Khadeem Lattin wide open on the block. Manek tossed an alley-oop to Lattin. Without even touching the basketball, Young’s presence on the court had shifted the entire defense and opened up space necessary for an easy two points.

For any team that goes up against Oklahoma, the game plan has only one simple objective: shut down Young. When a defense forces one of his teammates to take the shot, it is a sigh of relief. Yet despite the double teams and constant ball denial, Young still finds himself responsible for almost 50 percent of his team’s production. This is what happens when one is handed the keys to the offense and is afforded the freedom to take any shot, from any distance, without consequence.

Young is the rare college basketball player that is his very own maker. While top prospects at more historic college programs are limited by detailed, precise offense systems and checked by comparable surrounding talent, Young stands alone in Norman. He always has the ball in his hands and is given the opportunity to make decisions with it. This makes it unsurprising that he is atop college basketball’s leaderboard in points (29.6 ppg) and assists (9.6), and, as a natural consequence, turnovers (5.3).

Yet, most casual basketball fans would not know about Young’s struggles with turnovers, or that his team has already lost 10 games, including the one against Alabama, in which Young was outplayed by Sexton.

Many pundits and analysts have come to label Young’s increasing stardom as the result of the fact that he is the first of the “Steph Curry era,” the first guy whose impressionable years as a player coincided with the rise of Curry’s popularity and style of play.

More profoundly, in my opinion, is that Young is one of the basketball prospects of the “Highlight Era.” Scrolling through Instagram, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, it’s easy to find short clips of his deep line-drive threes and his no-look passes, or photos of him alongside his improbable stat lines in bold letters. While most know Trae Young, and most have something to say about his game, many less have actually watched one of his games.

Young is a basketball celebrity built by virality. For die-hard followers, internet highlights have accompanied him since high school. He is one of the first players to have grown up alongside his biggest fans. We have watched him develop as a player, each step meticulously documented through recruiting forums and highlight videos.

American culture has a nasty habit of attaching itself to a narrative. It loves to create heroes, and also villains. For skinny basketball players with overt confidence levels and unorthodox jumpshots, it is easy to become enframed in this culture.

Last year, it was Lonzo Ball and his bombastic father who captivated the prospect spotlight. Before that, there was Jimmer Fredette, with his relatable looks and brave three-point pull-ups. To a fault, we are constantly in search to bill someone as the next protege. Trae Young was next in line.
Looking past his profile, it is important to keep in mind that Young is still only 19, and is still developing as a player. He is not yet a superstar, but a prospect. Fredette could not live up his billing and shuffled around the NBA before finally relocating to China’s top league. Although Ball is showing flashes of being a more-than-capable NBA player, he does not look like the future perennial all-star he was once made out to be. Young is immensely talented, and has the perfect resume for NBA stardom. However, we must keep in mind that the alternative is still a possibility.

At the end of the Alabama game, with one minute left and the Crimson Tide up about 10 points (the contest fleeting, but still in reach), Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger made the curious decision to pull Young out. In what was in reality just another meaningless season game, I believe this move was meant as a lesson for Young. It was an opportunity for him to take in his own defeat, and accept the fact that he had been outplayed. It was an opportunity for him to think about how he could get better. For a prospect emerging into a celebrity, this was a sobering moment, an important reminder, one very much needed.

The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

NFL turns it back, kicks Colin Kaepernick to the curb

The article can also be found on the Miscellany news!


Today, the NFL will induct college football’s brightest players into its fraternity, with the opening round of the 2017 draft. For San Francisco 49er fans, today might be the day they finally get their new quarterback.

But what ran the last guy out of San Francisco? Simply put, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick just took a knee.

It’s the story that the NFL wants the common fan to forget about. While known domestic abusers and players with rap sheets as long as paper towel rolls are consistently given second chances in the league, Kaepernick, the man who was brave enough to do what so many athletes won’t, is out of a job.

Kaepernick was virtually kicked out of the NFL following his national anthem racial injustice protests during the 2015-2016 season. The current blacklisting of Kaepernick has firmly cemented the NFL as the most conservative institution in all of professional sports.

And this conversation, that looked to be finally fading away off of the NFL’s long list of PR issues, has now been given new life. The free agent quarterback was recently named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2017, a strong accolade for an athlete who is unlikely to throw a pass in 2017.

Jim Harbaugh, who coached Kaepernick in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014 during a golden age for the Niners, wrote the article that appeared alongside the Milwaukee native in Time Magazine.

“At times in our nation’s history, we have been all too quick to judge and oppose our fellow Americans for exercising their First Amendment right to address things they believe unjust,” Harbaugh said on Kaepernicks’s protest. “Rather than besmirch their character, we must celebrate their act. For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or-most important-harming our own personal interests.”

Harbaugh was not alone in his not-so-subtle shots at the NFL for not embracing Kaepernick. Appearing on ESPN’s First Take last month, outspoken Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman asserted that Kaepernick was treated unfairly during free agency.

“Obviously he’s going to be in a backup role at this point. But you see quarterbacks, there was a year Matt Schaub had a pretty rough year and got signed the next year,” Sherman said. “So it has nothing to do with football. You can see that. They signed guys who have had off years before.”

It is true that Kaepernick has not been a particularly good quarterback for the last couple of years.

However, he is still a relatively young player who brought the 49ers to two NFC championships and a Super Bowl appearance. His unemployment status just does not add up.

Additionally, with such a dearth of versatile quarterbacks currently in the league, it is almost unfathomable how no team has given Kaepernick a workout or even a glance.

All this boils down to an unfortunate fact: the NFL’s brand and fan base are too deeply attached to overt displays of patriotism. Kaepernick thus becomes the ultimate poison.

Other pro leagues like the NBA have openly encouraged players to use their position as influential public figures to speak out on issues, especially those of racial inequality.

So here’s a message to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 league owners. Don’t turn your back on your Black players.

Someone take a stand and give Kap a second chance under center. Your team can become a league pioneer for racial justice if you just let him take a knee on your sideline next season.


The article can also be found on the Miscellany news!

Historic debate continues: To foul or not to foul

Photo via Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review

For any basketball fan, it’s the type of nail-biting, game-deciding situation that leaves you screaming at your TV. Your favorite team just scored a big basket to put them up by three, 10 seconds left. What should the defense do? Defend the play, and run the risk of a game-tying three? Or should they foul, forcing free throws and a maximum of two points?

These are the age-old questions that have polarized some of basketball’s greatest minds. There’s Team Rihanna and Team Beyonce, Team Edward and Team Jacob and now, there’s Team Defend and Team Foul.

The most prominent display of a defend or foul dilemma (maybe of the last decade) occurred on the basketball’s biggest stage in the Final Four matchup between powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs and cinderella South Carolina Gamecocks with the Zags up 75-72.

After the Gamecocks managed to cross the mid-court line, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins gave the strategic foul with 3.5 seconds left, sending Thornwell to the line for two shots.

Thornwell stepped up and nailed the first free throw. With very little time left on the clock, Thornwell had no choice but to intentionally miss the second, in hopes for a fellow Gamecock to grab the rebound and put it back in for two points to send the game to overtime. However, Gonzaga freshmen center Killian Tillie grabbed the board and was fouled. Tillie would go on to hit two throws, giving Gonzaga a four-point lead, effectively ending the game.

Gonzaga’s defensive sequence was a defend or foul situation executed to perfection.

Perkins picked the right moment to give the foul. There was not enough time left (3.5 seconds) for South Carolina to have a chance to gain another possession and Thornwell was handling the ball about two feet outside the three point line, which made him unlikely to begin a shooting motion and draw a three-shot foul.

However, in the heat of the moment, there was a divide in the Zags huddle about the play call, as many players were uneasy about Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s call to foul. “I was screaming at my teammates to foul because I saw they weren’t fouling,” said Gonzaga starting point guard Nigel Williams-Goss in an interview.

Although Few has been one of very few coaches to be a proponent of fouling, he too was torn by the decision at hand.

Few pointed out, choosing to foul leads a team to run the risk of not obtaining the rebound off the intentionally missed second free throw, giving the opposing team another possession to either tie the game or win the game with a three. This is the nightmare scenario that often scares coaches away from fouling and instead electing to play out the final defensive possession.

However, a player knocking down a clutch three-pointer is much more likely than the team grabbing an offensive board off an intentional miss after a foul.

So is fouling the right move?

“I would pressure the ball and slow them [the offensive team down by three] down and foul after they get over half court,” said Vassar basketball player Steve Palecki. “Limits them from tying the game with a three but necessary to rebound on the free throws for this plan to work.”

One does not have to look at the numbers to recognize that defending often turns sour for the defensive team more often than fouling.

Recall the 2008 NCAA national championship game, where Memphis choose to defend, resulting in Kansas knocking down a clutch three-pointer to tie and send the game to overtime.

Kansas would eventually go on to win. But can anyone recall any game in which fouling under six seconds actually resulted in an overtime?

Evidence goes to show, when in doubt, just foul.


The article can also be found on the Miscellany News!

Forget Harden, Westbrook deserves 2017 NBA MVP

Photo via Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

“What he has done has been historic in nature,” NBA legend Oscar Robertson told a crowd before the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season finale about guard Russell Westbrook. “He’s played with passion and pride and it’s really outstanding what he has done and the way he did it.”

Back in the 1961-62 season, Robertson became the first player to average a triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists. Outside of center Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game, Robertson’s season was fabled in basketball lore as the NBA’s most untouchable record.

Flash forward 55 years. Mr. Triple-Double has been reincarnated, now only bigger, faster, and stronger. Get to appreciate Westbrook. He is not only the NBA’s MVP, but he is history writing itself.

One can easily start with his impressive stat line: 31.6 points per game, 10.4 assists per game and 10.7 rebounds per game.

In the modern game of basketball, where the superstars aren’t as elevated from the rest of the league’s players by leaps and bounds, Westbrook did the unimaginable. He made breaking Robertson’s single season triple-double record of 41 look routine.

When another NBA player gets a triple-double, it’s a headline. When Russ does, it is expected.

And don’t forget the backdrop in which Russ is dominating competition night in night out. Given no elite teammates, going against elite defense, and competing in one of the strongest Western Conference seasons in league history, Westbrook gets it done with scary efficiency.

Westbrook is averaging a triple-double while only averaging 35 minutes per night. Back when The Big O did it in ’62, he averaged over 10 more minutes per game. Over the course of an entire season, that’s hundreds of fewer minutes Westbrook needed to put up similar numbers.

Although Westbrook’s true shooting percentage of .555 and field goal percentage of .476 is not great, it is expected when his team relies on him to have the ball in his hands every possession and generate most of their offense.

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Photo via Getty Images

Despite Russell’s success, analysts have continued to discredit his season as too good to be true. Many present Houston Rocket’s star guard James Harden (29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.1 RPG) as an alternative MVP.

“It is clearly a very close race between Westbrook and Harden,” said Vassar basketball player Tony Caletti. “I don’t think either of those are a wrong answer but I’d lean towards Harden over Westbrook, even though I think Westbrook will win it. Harden has elevated the level of play of his teammates, beyond just his gaudy assist totals, and has helped rehabilitate the careers of aging journeymen while shattering preseason expectations. These rockets missed the playoffs last year and lost Dwight Howard, replacing him with injury prone players who had never reached their potential.”

Even though Harden’s successful season should not go unnoticed, and in another year he would be a sure-fire MVP, Westbrook has just been that more impressive.

Although Westbrook’s ball dominance has resulted in his teammate’s usage rates decreasing, he has also been able to elevate the play of those around him. Give it the eye test, and you’ll come to appreciate just how great of passer Westbrook really is.

This season he has become a guy who always makes the right reads, always picking the right spots to pull up, drive, or pass it off. Russ has been able to dump the ball off under the basket for big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, resulting in wide open dunks and easy finishes. It’s no surprise that Kanter and Adams are both shooting almost 60 percent from the field.

Others knock Westbrook for his team’s record. Oklahoma City finished 47-35 this regular season, only resulting in a six seed in the western conference.

“I thought winning was what this is about,” James Harden said about the MVP race. “I’m not going to get into depths, but I thought winning is the most important thing.”

Arguments like these gravely underestimate the success Oklahoma City has had this season. In the most talented conference in league history, Westbrook has almost single-handily willed the Thunder to a playoff berth with only a handful of wins less than the Rockets.

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Westbrook and Durant at 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

In addition, Westbrook has done it without Golden State Warriors star forward Kevin Durant, and with arguably less talent around him than Harden is working with. As far as overall value that Westbrook adds to a team, no one else comes close this season.

All this is not bad for the kid from Long Beach, Calif. who not too long ago didn’t even make his high school varsity team until his junior year.

Sounds eerily reminiscent of that guy who used to play for Chicago.


The article can also be found on The Miscellany News!