Trae Young’s sophomore campaign in the NBA, despite being cut short thanks to the pandemic, was stellar. The Hawks point guard seemed to have found his footing in the Association averaging nearly 30 points per game, being voted to his first All-Star team, and racking up multiple performances with 40-plus points.
One of his most memorable games came on January 26. Hours after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash, Young walked onto the floor in State Farm Arena in a number “8” jersey to honor his late hero. He’d go on to score 45 points in a 152-133 victory over the Wizards the night.
“It’s no secret that he is one of my all time favorite players,” Young tells Complex. “I was incredibly fortunate to have he and Gigi attend two of my games this past season.”
Young and the youthful Hawks core showed some upside this season despite finishing the year at 20-47 and missing the cut for the playoff bubble in Orlando, something that Young has very clearly stated his displeasure with.
“I'm happy that they’re playing, but to be honest with you I'm not excited to see anybody. I just wish we were out there playing,” says Young.
While away from the court, Young has tried his best to keep busy. He’s spent a bulk of his quarantine in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma and more recently has been seen on Instagram documenting his quest to perfect his golf swing. He also helped the Hawks show off their new uniforms last month, a fitting transition into a new era for a blooming team with tons of potential.
We got to catch up with Young to discuss how being a fan of Bryant influenced his decision to join the BODYARMOR team, his growth as a player in the NBA, his outlook on the future for the Hawks, and more.
(This interview has been condensed for clarity.)
You're a new ambassador and a stakeholder of BODYARMOR. What made you want to join the team?
Joining BODYARMOR was a no-brainer for me. Obviously, I play at a high level and so for me fueling my body with the right things is important. Getting this opportunity to work with the brand I've already used before and has already helped me with my nutrition off the court, it was a no-brainer.
Is there anything you’ve taken up during quarantine? I saw you’ve been golfing and also spent a lot of time back home in Oklahoma. What have you been up to? How is your golf game?
I’ve spent the majority of my quarantine working out at home, shooting hoops in my driveway, playing video games, Facetiming friends and family, and recently I’ve taken up golf. It is one of the few activities where you can safely social distance yourself. I’ve definitely made some big improvements in a short time span, but my game is still a work in progress [laughs].
"Kobe’s approach to the game and his hyper-competitive 'Mamba Mentality' are the things that resonated most with me as I watched him growing up. It’s no secret that he is one of my all time favorite players. I was incredibly fortunate to have he and Gigi attend two of my games this past season."
You had a big breakout sophomore season in the league. What do you think the biggest factor was in your growth as a player this past season?
I mean, to be honest with you. It's just reps. It's more reps. You play more games, you start to feel more comfortable with things, and that's kind of how it was for me. I just knew going into my second year, I would feel more comfortable in those areas. I would play a lot better. So that's kind of what happened.
Now that you're more familiar with the way that the game works in the NBA, how do you want to personally improve your game in the future? Is there anything specific?
For me it's all about conditioning. It's all about how I can really just be in the best shape possible going into next season and play at 100 percent for a long period of time. My main goal is just to be in the best shape possible going into next year.
You had a strong connection with Kobe and honored him throughout the season. You have also said how influential he was to you growing up. What about him and his game resonated with you most from all those years of watching him?
Kobe’s approach to the game and his hyper-competitive “Mamba Mentality” are the things that resonated most with me as I watched him growing up. It’s no secret that he is one of my all time favorite players. I was incredibly fortunate to have he and Gigi attend two of my games this past season. They were truly unforgettable moments. Honestly, I began drinking BODYARMOR because of him and he is a big part of why I am beyond excited to partner with the brand and help it continue to grow and flourish.
The Hawks aren't in the NBA bubble, but how do you think you would have handled that environment, the games with no fans, that whole situation?
I think I would have been fine. I would have adapted to it fine. It's kind of like playing AAU again, or it’s kind of like being back in high school. It’s kind of like the camps. The guys that are serious about winning the championship are locked in deep and are the players who are going to play well. So, it’s going to be something interesting to see.
The Hawks are a young and promising team. What's your outlook on the team's future, and what do you hope to build on with such a young core?
I'm looking forward to just playing with the young guys. I haven’t had a chance to play with Clint [Capela] yet, and I know he's going to really help us in the areas we really struggled with last year. So it's going to be good. I'm excited about the growth of rookies. So it's going to be fun playing with them and I'm just really looking forward to playing again and seeing the growth of those guys and what they do this summer.
The WNBA season recently tipped off as well. You’ve been one of the many guys showing support and rocking your orange hoodie, which is great to see. How important do you think it is to keep bringing this type of attention to the women’s game, especially for the younger generation of fans and players?
I am a huge WNBA fan. I will continue to use my voice to shine a bright light on the wonderful talent in the league and I hope other guys continue to do the same. I have a close relationship with a lot of the players which makes it even more fun to support them.