NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – He’s being polite, not wanting to disparage the other two Class of 2017 point guards with Kentucky scholarship offers, but Trae Young knows it’s true: He is the Wildcats’ top target at the position.
“Well, I don’t want to say that,” he said Friday at Nike’s Peach Jam, where he averaged 25.8 points and 7.0 assists through his first four games, “but they’ve definitely made me one of their top priorities. That’s for sure.”
The slick, 6-foot-1 playmaker is a consensus top-25 prospect and top-three point guard nationally. Kansas and Texas want him. Home-state Oklahoma – he’s from Norman – has increased appeal after Buddy Hield blew up and the Sooners made a Final Four run.
Washington will try to lure his AAU teammate, 5-star forward Michael Porter Jr. (whose father was recently hired by the Huskies) and make them a package deal. In other words, Young is officially a hot commodity.
Few have made that clearer to him than John Calipari and the Wildcats.
“I talk to them all the time,” Young said. “Coach Cal and the coaching staff make sure to show that I’m a top priority in their class, and that really stands out to me.”
More recently, UK has offered 5-star Quade Green and 4-star Tremont Waters, both top-10 point guards who are coveted by several other power programs. They each have Duke and Kentucky offers, and when it comes to those schools, Green figures whoever decides first will get the spot.
Young, who scored 28 points Thursday in a matchup with Waters, doesn’t mind the competition.
“(Kentucky) offered me last year and they stayed in contact with me. I know schools are going to offer other players, just like I’m going to be looking at other schools,” he said, noting that he’s not opposed to teaming up with one of them. “The past few championships have been with two smaller guards, so I can definitely see myself playing with another guard.”
The Wildcats, of course, technically had three 5-star point guards on last season’s team – and Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe all started. Ulis and Murray both became All-Americans and NBA draft picks.
“Coach Cal has had a lot of great guards go through his program, whether they’re small, big, fast, athletic, shooters,” Young said. “He’s had a lot of guards, different styles of play, and that’s why I can see myself there.”
That’s not the only thing Kentucky has going for it in this recruiting battle. He’s become close with Wildcats freshman guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who’ve been talking up the program since arriving on campus this summer. The pair of McDonald’s All-Americans were in his shoes this time last year.
“It’s really great being able to be close to De’Aaron Fox, being able to just be a text away to ask him what it’s like there at Kentucky, what to expect if I went there,” Young said. “When they got there, they just fell in love with it – the environment, the practices, how they get better each day, each practice. They love it.”
Young doesn’t feel like he’s just getting a sales pitch with Fox and Monk either, because “they’re more close friends and brothers to me than just random kids that are trying to recruit me.”
Of course, he has similar pulls elsewhere. Thanks the strong possibility Porter follows his father to Washington, the Huskies are “looking pretty good” to make Young’s short list. But there’s good news for UK there.
“We’re going to go where it’s best for us,” Young said, “an if Kentucky is the best place for me, that’s where I’ll be attending.”
He’d like to make his college decision in the early signing period – Nov. 9-16 – although he’s open to waiting a little longer to see how rosters and recruiting classes are taking shape. In the meantime, he’ll weigh the urge to stay home and play for the Sooners. He knows how hard it would be to leave.
Young has developed a relationship with NBA star Kevin Durant in recent years, thanks to their proximity while Durant played for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His recent decision to leave that franchise after nine years and join a loaded Golden State Warriors team was controversial.
Young, who texted Durant words of support after the decision, now finds himself in a similar spot.
“I see both ways,” he said. “I see going to a blue blood, where you’re on that stage and you’re coming behind a bunch of greats, but I can also see myself staying home and representing the 405 (area code) and where I grew up. It’s a long time from now, but I’m definitely looking at that.”
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