Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Trae Young could be third straight National Player of the Year from the Big 12, fifth in last 12 years
The Big 12 is no stranger to National Players of the Year in college basketball.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield won the Naismith and Wooden Awards in 2016, and Kansas’ Frank Mason captured them both in 2017.
Texas’ Kevin Durant won both in 2007, and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin won the pair in 2009.
The Big Ten is the closest to the Big 12 during that span, with three National Players of the Year in Ohio State’s Evan Turner (2010), Michigan’s Trey Burke (2013) and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (2015) all capturing the Naismith and Wooden Awards.
Now here comes Oklahoma’s Trae Young, who could become the third straight winner from the Big 12 and the fifth in the last 12 years. The 6-foot-2 freshman leads the nation in scoring (28.7 ppg) and assists (10.4 apg).
“We had Durant and Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley, those were the three best players in the country back-to-back-to-back,” Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team is seeking its 14th straight Big 12 regular-season title, said on Andy Katz’s Podcast this week.
“And we’ve had Buddy Hield’s been the National Player of the Year, Frank Mason’s been the National Player of the Year, the last two years. And certainly Trae’s put himself in a position, he’s going to be a first-team All-American. He may be National Player of the Year.
“And maybe numbers drop a little bit once they get into the league, but everybody’s does across the country. But he’s going to be a guy that’s putting up Durant, Beasley, [Wayman] Tisdale, he’s putting up those type of numbers and has a chance to sustain that, which is incredible, considering he’s 6-1, 6-2 guard. He’s been pretty remarkable so far.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger beat out Kansas and Kentucky for Young, who is from Oklahoma. Even he admitted surprise to what the freshman is doing.
“No one could anticipate statistically that types of numbers,” Kruger said last week on The 4 Quarters Podcast. “He’s been remarkable in every ball game. I knew he was very skilled, I knew he could really shot the ball, I knew he had great court vision. But to anticipate those numbers, I don’t think anyone saw that coming.”
Young is currently projected as the No. 17 pick in the NBA Draft per ESPN.com, and has even impressed Russell Westbrook, the reigning NBA MVP.
“People have taken notice nationwide for sure,” Kruger said. “In just 10 short games, he’s gone from not really being projected in a lot of those type [draft] situations to being highly projected.
“And deservedly so, he’s been so consistent. In 10 games, he’s not even had an average game. He’s been above average.”
If Young does become the National Player of the Year, it would give Oklahoma both the Heisman Trophy winner in Baker Mayfield and the Wooden or Naismith winner in Young.
“Well, of course we would love that,” Kruger said. “And of course, it’s very early in the process…But if Trae keeps doing what he’s doing and keeps making progress, then he’s certainly right there in position to be in contention.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.