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Trae Young's NCAA career likely is over, and it ends with fitting awe and drama


Trae Young's NCAA career likely is over, and it ends with fitting awe and drama



PITTSBURGH -- Trae Young's brilliant freshman season ended in dramatic fashion Thursday afternoon in what might wind up as one of the four or five best games of this 2018 NCAA Tournament. 

Seventh-seeded Rhode Island pulled away from No. 10 Oklahoma in overtime to win 83-78. Young had a typical game for him, which is to say a well-rounded-if-flawed 28 points, seven assists, six turnovers and five rebounds. He was, at points, awe-inspiring. On a few occasions, Young's pizzazz and passing flare induced the Pittsburgh crowd into ahhhs and ohhhs. His 3-pointer with two minutes remaining that put Oklahoma up 67-66 buzzed the building. He hit two fouls shots that wound up being the points that pushed the game into overtime. 

"I knew he was going to make those free throws," Rayford Young, Trae's father, told CBS Sports.

Now it's all over. Oklahoma was at one point a 14-2 team and ranked No. 4 in the country. The Sooners' swan dive has finally hit the ground. Thursday's result pushed Oklahoma out of the bracket before any other team in the 64-squad field. Young's NCAA Tournament résumé will probably wind up duplicating in terminology what his college career is expected to tritely be defined as: one-and-done. 

"If we lose, I blame it on me," Trae Young told CBS Sports. "Just being the point guard and leader that I am, it's on me. I could've done better." 

Thursday wasn't perfect. Young deferred plenty in the final minutes of regulation and overtime. He said it was a conscious decision. He's always been more selfless than he's been given credit for. But that mindset probably cost the Sooners a shot at Duke

"There is a time, even in the Oklahoma State game, when we went into overtime -- I tried to shoot us to a win," Young said. "That didn't happen. This game, I tried to make the right play, it just didn't work out this time."

Now the question becomes not only if Young declares for the draft, but also how soon it happens. It seems a likelihood he's played his last game in a college uniform. 

Rayford Young alluded to that reality on Thursday as well. 

"As much as I would like to see him grow and mature and continue playing in college," he told CBS Sports. "I think, with the type of season he had, it scares me to think of him coming back and not duplicating that — and having to deal with the backlash of that. It is what it is. I'm going to be honest. If he comes back and doesn't lead the country in points and assists again, and average 30 and 10, what's going to happen?"

Trae Young was asked directly asked at his postgame press conference about what will go into his decision. He did not bite.  

"Right now, I'm not worried about that," he said. "Right now my main focus is my teammates. Those are my brothers, and those are the people I care about most right now. It's tough after a loss to think of anything else besides that. But when you get back to me later this week, I'll sit down with my family and we'll discuss that. But right now that's not my main focus. My main focus is my teammates."

It obviously makes sense for Young to go. He entered this season with an expectation of being a scoring point guard who might've been able to get Oklahoma above .500 and competing for the NCAAs. Instead, Young had one of the great individual runs in college basketball history and helped lead OU back to the Big Dance. He broke Big 12 records. He set national records. He was the best freshman in college basketball. 


With Thursday's result, Young is officially to first player to finish a season leading Division I in points and assists. For posterity, the numbers are 27.4 points and 8.7 assists -- plus 3.9 rebounds a game. 

Pretty damn good for a teenager playing in the toughest league in college basketball and someone who was thrown the weight of the state -- and more -- on him about 10 games into his college experience. 

"This season was a roller coaster," Young said. "I mean, starting off hot, cooling down, winning a few games, and going back to losing. It's a roller coaster. It's definitely tough. Like I say, you never want it to end, but this is the biggest day in college basketball."

What happens next? For Young, he'll do what most NBA prospects do after their seasons end. OU coach Lon Kruger will sit down with his point guard and they'll have a discussion about what works best for him and what Oklahoma can do for next season. With Young, the Sooners would be in good position to make another tournament run. The only senior they lose is Khadeem Lattin

Lattin was one of the guys Young pointed out afterward. 

"I'm happy for my teammates," Young said. "I'm proud of my teammates from going to 11-20 to the NCAA Tournament. That's big-time. I owe a lot of credit to Khadeem, thanking him for everything he's done for me and this team. This is a great experience." 

Teammates, teammates, teammates. Young didn't go but 60 seconds between answers without crediting them. His father said that if the NBA is destined to happen, the change from college to pro life is going to be bittersweet. Think about it: He's set to move on after he and his family expected, even three months ago, for this to be at last a two-year experiment. 

"That's going to be one of the toughest parts," Rayford Young said. "Knowing now it's a business. Now it's a job. Instead of going out and eating pizza with your college buddies, you've got to watch what you eat. With that being said, Trae's always been mature. He knows what to expect." 

To be clear, Young is still not officially going there. It would be unfair to expect him too anyway.

"We'll see about that," Young said. "I don't know right now." 

Beyond the loss on Thursday, the big picture is Young falling short of guys he looks up to, Sooners legends who had deep tournament runs. In early January, Oklahoma had the look of a Final Four team. Blake Griffin and Buddy Hield are program legends. Young is one now, too, but if Thursday was his final game then he'll leave as a regular season dynamo whose career sputtered to a frenzied finish with one game in the NCAA Tournament. 

"His biggest disappointment, I know, is not being able to being able to do what maybe Blake did or maybe Buddy did," Rayford Young said. "That was his number one goal. It wasn't to come to Oklahoma and be a one-and-done. He wanted to go and surpass. Blake got to an Elite Eight (as a sophomore in 2009). Buddy got to a Final Four (as a senior in 2016). That was the goal." 

He came up short there but given how he led Oklahoma to being one of the focal points of college basketball, and given his historic statistical accomplishment, I get the sense that the further we get away from Young's career the better he'll be remembered for what he did. A local kid from Norman who stayed home and made history.