LEXINGTON, Ky. — Oklahoma freshman Trae Young has captivated college basketball fans with Stephen Curry-esque shots and dazzling assists, and Kentucky coach John Calipari was asked Tuesday about the former 5-star prospect who picked the Sooners over Kentucky and Kansas.
“I knew how good he was, but I didn’t even realize he was this good,” Calipari said. “The biggest thing in this, and it’s a great lesson. Lon Kruger, who I have unbelievable respect for, basically said ‘We’re gonna play through you, it’s all going through you, you’re gonna shoot when you want.’ And he did not lie.”
Young is putting up gaudy numbers: 29.6 points and 10.7 assists per game. The Norman, Okla., native is making a strong national Player of the Year case. He leads the nation in both points and assists by a significant margin.
Calipari had praise for Young on Tuesday, but the Kentucky coach referenced Young in a different light on Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s podcast in late November.
“Tell me what kind of program you want to be in,” Calipari said of a question he asks on visits. “Tell me how you want to play or be coached. And through the questioning, sometimes I look and say, this is not going to work. Now, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong in not coming to Kentucky. There’s a kid whose father wanted him to shoot every ball and I said, we just don’t do that here. Well, he’s gone to a school and he had 40 last night as a freshman. The most in 20 years. Well, that may have been right for their son.”
Fast forward a month and Calipari’s tone toward Young seems to have changed when it comes to his usual pitch to prospects.
“My, ‘You’re not gonna be the only guy here, you’re gonna share the ball’ — hopefully if he would’ve come here I would’ve realized early ‘This kid needs a little more room than some other guys that I’ve had.’ Hopefully I would’ve realized that.”
Young and the No. 7 Sooners are one of college basketball’s biggest surprises this season.
“I didn’t realize he’d be able to do what he’s doing which is basically 80 percent of their baskets, 70 percent of their baskets he either scores or assists,” Calipari said. “That’s a ridiculous number. And he’s got teammates that are letting him play, and it’s helping them and they’re winning. And he’s got a coach who, again, one of the best in our business, said ‘This is what we’re gonna do,’ and he went out and did it for the kid.
“I’m happy for Trae. Hope we don’t ever have to play him, but happy for him.”