THE NEW FACE

Young em­brac­ing lead­er­ship role for the Soon­ers

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Ryan Aber raber@ ok­la­homan.com

OU BAS­KET­BALL

NOR­MAN — The Trae Young era is here.

The most-hyped fresh­man to ar­rive at Ok­la­homa for years de­buts Sun­day when the Soon­ers take on Omaha at 2 p.m. at Lloyd Noble Cen­ter. Why is Young ready for this mo­ment?

“Re­ally just my con­fi­dence,” Young said. “My con­fi­dence level is ex­tremely high. I feel like I can play with who­ever is on the court and dom­i­nate. That’s just my mind­set. I feel like that car­ries me a long way.”

Young is the high­es­tranked re­cruit the Soon­ers have signed since Tiny Gal­lon in 2009. But Gal­lon was from out of state.

Young grew up in Nor­man, play­ing just down the road from the home of the Soon­ers, even though

his fa­ther played in­stead for Texas Tech.

He’s not only ex­pected to be the first Nor­man na­tive to start for the Soon­ers since Steve Ay­ers 50 years ago, but he’s ex­pected to be the team leader from day one.

“Trae is work­ing hard in prepa­ra­tion to take care of those ex­pec­ta­tions,” Ok­la­homa coach Lon Kruger said. “He knows that it’s a dif­fer­ent level of com­pe­ti­tion in the Big 12 and non­con­fer­ence play but he knows it’s im­por­tant now in­stead of wait­ing to check it out first. He’s done a good job in prepa­ra­tion.”

Young knew when he com­mit­ted to the Soon­ers — choos­ing to stay home over of­fers from Kansas and Ken­tucky among oth­ers — what was ex­pected of him right off the bat.

That con­fi­dence, he said, has made him ready to take on the role.

Young said the en­vi­ron­ment he grew up in has pre­pared him for this mo­ment.

“It was just me grow­ing up in the Young house­hold,” he said. “Ev­ery­body in my fam­ily, we’re all con­fi­dent. We all work ex­tremely hard at what we do. That’s just how we were all built.”

Young made his name in high school by be­ing a long-range shooter, reg­u­larly pulling up from well beyond the 3-point line.

But for the Soon­ers, he’ll be asked to be a much more bal­anced point guard, dis­tribut­ing the ball to team­mates such as Kameron McGusty, Rashard Odomes and Chris­tian James among oth­ers.

“He’s a great passer,” Soon­ers fresh­man Brady Manek said. “Peo­ple don’t know that about him but he’s a great passer. He’s al­ways been able to find me.”

One of the big­gest ar­eas of strug­gle last year for the Soon­ers was at point guard, where Jor­dan Woodard was in and out of the lineup and then fresh­man Jor­dan Shep­herd and ju­nior-col­lege trans­fer Dar­rion StrongMoore had to carry the load there.

“As a team, you want your point guard to be able to have a voice and I feel like that’s some­thing we lacked last year — a voice,” McGusty said. “That’s what Trae does. He brings the voice and he brings the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm ev­ery day to prac­tice and that’s go­ing to carry over to the games.”

Em­brac­ing the voice is also some­thing that Young is ready for.

“I don’t la­bel my­self as a fresh­man,” he said. “That’s just what’s on a piece of pa­per, to be hon­est.

“You’re ei­ther born a leader or you’re not.”

[PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN AR­CHIVES]

The Trae Young era for Ok­la­homa bas­ket­ball be­gins in earnest on Sun­day when the Soon­ers take on Omaha. Young, pic­tured here talk­ing to young fans at the OU alumni game in Au­gust, is the most-hyped fresh­man to ar­rive at Ok­la­homa in sev­eral years.

[PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Trae Young makes his reg­u­lar-sea­son de­but as Ok­la­homa’s point guard Sun­day when the Soon­ers take on Omaha.

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