11:42 AM ET

  • Nick DePaulaESPN


When Trae Young and his family met with Roc Nation Sports during the process of vetting potential agents, there was an added twist to the presentation. A representative from sportswear company Puma was in the room as part of a big-picture pitch: The brand believes so strongly in Young's star potential that it wants to make him the face of Puma basketball as the company looks to re-enter the basketball sneaker landscape for the first time in nearly two decades.
Young and his parents, Ray and Candice, ultimately passed on Roc Nation - and a PR representative for Roc Nation Sports denies that anyone from Puma was in the room for the meeting. However, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN that Puma was part of the pitch, and that Young, who ultimately signed with Octagon Sports for his representation, is very much still a target for Puma, which is just one of a handful of sneaker brands that considers the former Oklahoma guard the most marketable player in the NBA draft class of 2018.
"There's a magic to certain players. There's an 'it factor' that's hard to quantify, and I believe he has that," said Omar Wilkes, one of the Octagon agents representing Young. "He's able to have that with his combination of passing, shooting, ballhandling and charisma. There's an effortless ease about him when he's on the court."
That ease was easy to spot throughout Young's breakthrough season at Oklahoma. There was the 43-point outburst in Portland versus Oregon -- 30 in the second half -- in front of countless sneaker execs at Nike's PK80 tournament in November.

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From game to game, Young's deep heaves from all over the court captivated an audience, while his court vision and overall playmaking made him more than a one-dimensional scorer. Young became the first player in NCAA history to lead the country in both points (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.8 assists per game).
Once the dust settles from Tuesday's draft lottery (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and teams are slotted accordingly, Young and his group will listen to sneaker endorsement pitches from companies beginning next week in Los Angeles. Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Puma are all expected to present, with Young already having developed a level of familiarity with each brand.
The 6-foot-2 Oklahoma native hosted an Under Armour exec for a private workout last month before grabbing dinner with his family and the exec later that evening. The next day, Young worked out in front of Adidas reps. Nike's sports marketing group checked out a workout as well.
For Young, the sessions not only served as an opportunity to get familiar with potential partners but also allowed him to test each company's latest sneakers. So far, he's gravitated to Under Armour's Curry 4 and 5, Nike's Kyrie 4 and Adidas' Harden Vol. 2 model.
Trae Young turned heads when he showed up wearing these $610 Off-White sneakers at a Warriors playoff game earlier this month.*Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty ImagesPuma, the wild card in the mix, plans to present Young with a prototype of its upcoming fall basketball sneaker this week in advance of its official pitch. Then the Puma team will showcase its marketing plans, future product concepts, growth strategy and an overview of how the brand plans to re-engage in basketball.
Puma has largely been removed from the NBA in this millennium, but has long been known for its history of wearable lifestyle products. More recently, a Rihanna-led women's franchise has helped uplift the entire brand.
"This is their first real foray back into basketball since 1998 with Vince Carter," Wilkes said. "The possibility to be the seminal piece to re-establish that category for Puma is what's enticing."
The Carter deal famously combusted just as his star power was ascending, with the then-Raptors franchise forward forcing his way out of the 10-year contract in 1999, before his second season had even ended. Puma, which once had the defining basketball sneaker with Walt Frazier's "Clyde," hasn't signed an NBA player since Carter. According to industry sources, Puma would look to supplement the signing of Young with a batch of established NBA players headed toward sneaker free agency later this fall.
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While other recent upstarts like BrandBlack, Q4 Sports and Big Baller Brand have looked to make inroads into an NBA footwear space dominated by Nike and Adidas, Puma has a leg up not only in sheer resources and manpower, but also in its existing store and retail presence. It now boasts over 600 stores globally, reaching over 40 countries at retail.
The brand enjoyed a 15 percent rise in sales for the 2017 fiscal year, and more than doubled its net earnings from 2016. The potential to be featured in global brand campaigns and store displays while headlining a new sneaker before even playing an NBA game is an intriguing option for Young.
At Under Armour, Young would have the chance to join a brand that features his longtime idol Stephen Curry. Just 10 years old when he saw a collegiate-aged Curry drop a career-high 44 points against Oklahoma in person, Young has been unmistakably influenced by the Golden State Warriors superstar.
Just last week, Young and Wilkes attended the Warriors' series-clinching win over the New Orleans Pelicans, sitting courtside and meeting with Curry before tipoff. Young was understandably excited about the exchange, posting a photo onto his Instagram shortly after.
"It's an absolute compliment to be compared to the two-time MVP, but Trae is absolutely his own man and has his own path and journey ahead of him," Wilkes said.
Rather than wear Curry's signature shoe if he signed with Under Armour, Young would likely wear models from the company's Drive series.
Adidas is expected to make Young a competitive offer, despite being in the process of revamping its basketball strategy in the aftermath of the ongoing FBI investigation into NCAA violations. The point guard is one of only five players Adidas is believed to be pitching on an endorsement deal, though the brand already features signature sneakers for three NBA point guards -- James Harden, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose -- and recently re-signed John Wall.
The only point guard with a signature shoe at Nike is Kyrie Irving, and it's a shoe Young is familiar with. He wore the past three Irving signature models at different points during his season at Oklahoma (a Nike school), along with the latest shoes from Kobe Bryant and Paul George.
Trae Young wore Kyrie Irving's signature Nike sneaker during his lone season at Oklahoma.*Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsAfter Nike infamously botched Curry's sneaker free agency in 2013, a grumble has grown in Beaverton, Oregon, to not make the same mistake twice and potentially lose out on yet another emerging star guard who appeals to the next generation of basketball players. Additionally, after Bryant's retirement and with longtime Nike fixture LeBron James approaching the twilight of his career, the company is looking to add to its stable of young stars like Irving and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Young is expected to be in Chicago for the lottery before heading back west to refocus on his workout schedule and take in next week's slate of presentations. While large markets like New York and Chicago are likely to land picks in the range where Young is projected to be drafted, brands so far haven't seemed to weigh market size as heavily, believing in Young's potential on and off the court regardless of where he plays his home games.
Young himself is said to be prioritizing "the best basketball fit" and is expected to come to terms on a shoe deal before the NBA draft on June 21.