You can say that Trae Young hails from Norman, Okla., and while that would be technically accurate, it is not quite right. There was a brief stop in Portugal, Young says. Some time in Lubbock, Texas. Then, finally, his family settled in Oklahoma.
Standing in a community center in the Minneapolis suburbs last weekend, Young, one of the top high school basketball players in the class of 2017, explained the nonlinear path he has taken to this point.
His father, former Texas Tech guard Rayford Young, played professionally in Portugal, which added one stop. His father later served as a graduate assistant for Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, which is how Young found himself in Oklahoma.
But for the moment, the story is not so much about where Young has been. It’s about where he is going. After a breakout spring performance in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, Young has emerged as one of the top Midwest prospects in the class of 2017 — a player who is suddenly drawing a lot of interest from Kansas, K-State, Oklahoma and plenty of other top programs.
“I feel like I have opened some eyes,” Young said. “But I still know I have a lot to improve on, I have a lot to get better at.”
Young’s connection to Kansas City was forged this spring, when he began playing for the MOKAN Elite grassroots program, the same Kansas City-based AAU program that has produced Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein and Semi Ojeleye, among others. A 6-foot-1 point guard, Young’s introduction to MOKAN came through Michael Porter Jr., the Columbia native who is currently rated as a top-five recruit in the class of 2017. Young and Porter met last year while at an elite Nike summer camp for top underclassmen. Young, Porter says, was looking for somewhere to play this summer, and he suggested MOKAN.
“He knew how good he was,” Porter says. “It’s just, out there in Oklahoma, there’s not really a lot of big events.”
Porter and Young spent the spring competing for MOKAN’s under-17 team on the EYBL circuit, where Porter cemented his status as one of the top prospects in the 2017 class and Young emerged as one of the breakout stars.
Young averaged 18.2 points and 4.0 assists per game while competing against some of the nation’s top guards in the 2016 class. His status as a player on the rise was solidified in late April, when Kansas coach Bill Self called to offer a scholarship after a terrific performance at an EYBL stop in Lexington, Ky.
“It was just a humbling experience, just to talk to coach Bill Self and coach Norm Roberts and the coaching staff,” Young said. “It just motivates me to get even better.”
Young’s coaches on MOKAN — including head coach Rodney Perry and organization founder Matt Suther — said they’ve never seen a player break out in one spring like Young did over the last two months. Young, meanwhile, was just happy for the added interest from college programs.
Kansas, of course, was not his first major scholarship offer. But for Young, it did feel like an important moment in his recruitment. Porter, his teammate on MOKAN, also holds a scholarship offer from Kansas, Indiana, Baylor, Missouri (and many others) — and he will likely end up with dozens more. For Young, the interest from Kansas served as proof that his recruitment was about to get a lot busier.
“That’s a first-class school,” Young said. “That’s a great school. Coach Self is a legend, and it’s not much you can say bad about them.”
Young will be a junior at Norman North High School this fall, which, of course, means he has plenty of time to sort out his college decision. But as he prepares for the July recruiting period, he’s readying for the added attention.
“Just working on my craft,” Young said. “I want to continue to get better at all areas of my game. I’m pretty much good at a little bit of everything, but I want to be great at everything. I want to be great at everything I do. I’ve got a lot to improve on.”
Young, a junior point guard from Norman, Okla., is just one Kansas target to watch after the conclusion of the spring grassroots circuits. The Jayhawks will need to make the frontcourt a priority in the 2016 class, with the impending exits of seniors Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson.
With that in mind, here is a list of prospects to watch in the 2016 and 2017 classes — not including Kansas commit LaGerald Vick, who is currently in the 2016 class but could soon re-classify to 2015. Not all of these players will end up at Kansas, of course, and others could emerge soon, too. But for now, here’s a solid first primer.
Eight players to watch in the 2016 class
Josh Jackson, 6-7 guard, Napa, Calif. (Prolific Prep)
Rivals rank: No. 1
A long and versatile perimeter player, Jackson is an explosive leaper and natural scorer. This spring, Jackson cut his college list to 10 schools: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, N.C. State, North Carolina and UCLA.
Terrance Ferguson, 6-6 guard, Dallas (Prime Prep)
Rivals rank: No. 5
The first of many Texas prospects on this list, Ferguson has taken an unofficial visit to Kansas and remains one of the Jayhawks’ top targets.
Edrice Adebayo, 6-9 forward, Washington, N.C. (Northside HS)
Rivals rank: No. 8
A five-star big man, Adebayo is nicknamed “Bam-Bam,” played on the adidas circuit this spring, and is one of the top frontcourt prospects in the country. That means Kansas will be interested.
De’Aaron Fox, 6-5 guard, Katy, Texas (Cypress Lakes HS)
Rivals rank: No. 10
A combo guard in the classic sense, Fox averaged 16.8 points per game this spring while leading the EYBL with 5.4 assists per contest. With Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the program, it may prove difficult to land another point guard in the 2016 class. But Fox has the size to play off the ball as well.
Jarrett Allen, 6-9 forward, Austin (St. Stephens Episcopal School)
Rivals rank: No. 16
Allen resides in Texas’ backyard, but he currently holds a scholarship offer from Kansas, among many other schools, according to Rivals.com.
Marques Bolden, 6-10 forward, DeSoto, Texas (DeSoto HS)
Rivals rank: No. 29
A rising prospect with terrific feet, great size and solid athleticism, Bolden is likely to jump up the rankings during his final year of high school. In addition to heavy interest from Kansas, Bolden recently picked up a Kentucky offer.
Braxton Blackwell, 6-7 forward, Nashville, Tenn. (Christ Presbyterian Academy)
Rivals rank: No. 34
Kansas’ coach tracked Blackwell this spring. Listed at 6 feet 7, Blackwell can play on the wing and can be dangerous off the dribble.
Schnider Herard, 6-10 center, Plano, Texas (Prestonwood Christian Academy)
Rivals rank: No. 35
Herard, another big man from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, played in the EYBL this spring alongside Bolden on Pro Skills, a Dallas-based AAU organization. Herard may not have the footwork or raw potential of Bolden, but he possesses great size and can be a load in the middle.
Five players to watch in the 2017 class
Michael Porter Jr., 6-8 swingman, Columbia, Mo.
Rivals rank: No. 2
Troy Brown Jr., 6-6 guard, Las Vegas
Rivals rank: No. 3
Wendell Carter, 6-10 forward, Atlanta
Rivals rank: No. 8
Mitchell Ballock, 6-4 guard, Eudora
Rivals rank: No. 23
Trae Young, 6-1 guard, Norman, Okla.
Rivals rank: No. 30