As we neared the end of our conversation, I was prepared to thank him for his time and generosity. The interview had run much longer than expected. That's when basketball trainer Tim Martin provided his parting thoughts on the trajectory of Trae Young's career.
"At this point, I would say Hall of Fame. Only because of what he's done in such a short span in his career. He's done a great job of taking care of his body. It's not even about the money at this point, and it really never was."
I settled back down into my chair and leaned in closer to hear what the long-time friend of the Young family had to say.
"When I say this kid is a true competitor, I'm putting him up there with the Kobe Bryant's and Michael Jordan's in terms of mental approach. His mental approach to the game of basketball is about fulfilling his legacy, winning a championship, and that's what it's about. For his own personal expectations, I don't think anybody will have more than what he expects from himself. But there's really no ceiling for Trae."
Dallas, Texas 2011
The drive from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dallas, Texas, is approximately 2.5 hours. Get on Interstate 35 and follow the road over the Red River, through the Chickasaw Nation, and after a hundred miles of prairies, drivers are greeted by the bright lights of the big city.
Ray Young spent countless hours in the car with his son, Trae, during his formative years. They discussed everything from life to hoops to music (especially hip-hop and old-school R&B). The two zigzagged across the country, from tournaments to personal training sessions. Whatever it took to get Trae to college and eventually the NBA.
One of the frequent trips the pair made was to Dallas, Texas, to meet Tim Martin. The personal trainer has a deep understanding of the game and everything it demands of those who want to excel. His clients include Nic Claxton, Tyrese Maxey, PJ Washington, Myles Turner, and Rudy Gobert.
"I've never owned my own facility. During that time, it was just random gyms. Anything we could get. We worked at Mo Williams' gym for a while. He had a facility in Irving, Texas, by the old Cowboy Stadium. I used to be the head coach of his EYBL team, so we had full access to that for a while. Wherever we could get the work in, we did."
At just 13-years-old, Martin recognized something special in Trae. "One thing that stood out when I first worked with him on the court was his I.Q. I mean, it is something I had never seen. He's set the standard and bar for me when working with other guards on the come-up. His intelligence and his curiosity are what really stood out to me. He was always inquisitive and asking questions. He just wanted to soak up so much knowledge. I think that's what made him who he is today. And just a real competitor he is. He definitely has the killer instinct."
Before Trae could even get into PG-13 movies, he was making a name for himself throughout most of the southwest. His prodigious levels of traveling put him on courts with future college and professional players. Wherever there was a competition, Trae was in the center of it. He was loved, hated, and impossible to be ignored. The prodigy point guard dominated school leagues, AAU circuits, and even semi-pro games (a summer ritual he's still fond of revisiting).
By his teenage years, Young had already built an organic fanbase. Thanks to the virality of social media and YouTube videos, the point guard's popularity grew with each deep three and behind the back pass. Kids held posters and media members pushed their way to get near the future All-Star.
Martin recalled Young's ascension. "Trae's always been a really good player. Especially middle school and high school. If you would go to a Norman game, back in his high school days, they were selling out, and he was always in front of the camera for so long. What he did in the AAU circuit, he was dominating then. I think over the course of time; he got accustomed to it on the public, p.r. side. Obviously, Rae has always been there for him and done a great job of instilling things he learned when he was a professional."
Lubbock, Texas 1996
In the summer of 1996, the sport of basketball was reaching new levels of popularity. Michael Jordan just won his fourth championship with the Chicago Bulls before his feature film Space Jam was released later that fall. In addition, a new draft class including Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash were ready to write their own history.
The 41st pick in the legendary draft was Jason Sasser (a cousin of Tim Martin). The former Texas Tech Red Raider was heading to the Sacramento Kings. But before he made the trip out west, he spent July and August preparing for the league in Lubbock, Texas. That's where he met incoming freshman Ray Young.
"Honestly, Ray was a hell of a player, himself. Ray was a great player." At the time, Martin was already working with college and professional players. The two crossed paths on the court and quickly became friends.
Ray Young played all four seasons as Texas Tech. He was ahead of his time when it came to outside shooting. From his sophomore to senior season, Young attempted just under 5 three's per game and shot a blistering 37.8% from behind the arc. One of his career highlights came in a Big 12 conference battle against the Kansas Jayhawks, where he scored 35 points in the second half.
Ray's career ended after playing professionally in Europe. But his playstyle was strikingly similar to his son's. Now with his playing career behind him, Ray was able to help his oldest son achieve his hoop dreams. Martin spoke to Ray's parenting.
"He did a phenomenal job of building the foundation for Trae. I think any dad, even for myself, I could have all the basketball knowledge in the world. But there's just something about relaying that to your son. It's kind of like you have to raise your child through a village, so to speak, and find the right people that align with what you know about the game. Me and Ray have always had a great relationship, and Trae's worked with a lot of great trainers as well during that time. It was just a collective effort."
Norman, Oklahoma 2021
A quarter-century after meeting on the sun-drenched Texas Tech campus, Martin remains friends with Ray. Now, the patriarch of the Young family is focused on helping improve the lives of strangers. In addition to charitable acts, The Trae Young Family Foundation donated $4 million to build a multi-sports complex known as the 'Young Family Center.' It was the largest gift in Norman's city history.
"We had took some time and went up there for a few days in Norman at his new facility he just built. Which again is just really awesome to see - with all the pictures of certain special memories from his young career. Just all the success. It's really good to be able to catch up because both our schedules are pretty hectic."
In a basketball world full of clout chasers and ambitious personalities, Martin is empathetic to the stress today's players are under. He understands what the daily itinerary looks like for the face of the Atlanta Hawks and Adidas Basketball.
"Especially during the season, I don't think people understand what these guys have to go through on the day-to-day. Just handling business, dealing with family, and they're human beings at the end of the day. They need their own downtime, so I never try to spark conversation. We usually save that kind of stuff for the offseason."
However, when Young makes history - which happens frequently - the sage trainer will shoot a text message to his protege student. "If I see him reach a milestone or if I see something he may need to look at it during the playoffs or whatever, I'll shoot him a text. But we keep everything cordial throughout the season."
Superstars are on the clock 24/7. Practices, meetings, interviews, games, appearances. It never ends. Despite the Beatle-mania, which Young is currently living through, he remains one of the realest players in the world.
Most kids know by elementary school they are not growing to be 7-feet tall. Becoming Kevin Durant is out of the question. But nutmegging bigger defenders, heaving deep threes, and developing a nasty floater is very much in the realm of possibilities.
That's why kids around the country are flocking to Hawks road games. They wear their #11 jerseys with a fresh pair of the Adidas Trae Young 1's on their feet hoping to get a glimpse at their generation's idol. Young makes a point of rewarding some lucky fans with game-worn shoes and arm-sleeves whenever possible.
"I think how he projects himself is exactly who he is. You know what I mean, a really humble guy, very genuine and sincere. I think he has a very unique ability to have an alter ego. When he's in between those lines on the court, that guy's a killer. When he gets off the court, he's the nicest person you'll ever meet," said Martin.
Trae Young's road from Norman North High School to Oklahoma University to the Atlanta Hawks was never preordained. At 6'1, the wiry point guard had to put in levels of work that would burn out the most determined of athletes. The sacrifices he and his family made are what made him who he is today. The 23-year-old's road to basketball superstardom is wide open.
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