Markelle Fultz may not be dominating the sports news cycle like some of his peers, but he is leading the pack where it counts. The Upper Marlboro, Md. native is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

In this Feb. 18, 2017, file photo, Washington’s Markelle Fultz brings the ball upcourt against Arizona during an NCAA college basketball game in Seattle. Fultz was selected to the AP All-Pac-12 Conference first team, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Fultz attended basketball powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., which produced current NBA players such as Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant, but his drive started long before high school.

According to DeMatha varsity head coach Mike Jones, Fultz attended the team’s basketball camp from the time he was 8 years old. Despite impressing Jones during the varsity tryout, Fultz—then a sophomore—was assigned to the junior varsity squad to receive more playing time due to the team’s veteran talent. After dominating the JV league and eventually moving up to varsity, Fultz had his breakout moment while playing in the Amateur Athletic Union circuit the summer before his junior year.

“He really blossomed, and I think it was all about finally getting his opportunity,” said Jones. “He was capable ….. but once he got his opportunity, he just ran with it.”

That summer, Fultz’s height and wingspan grew, and the former 5-foot-9 guard—now a 6-foot-4 elite recruit—attracted the interest of several major programs. He was a standout in the ultra-competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference during his junior season and won player of the year.

Fultz also began training with Keith Williams, a legend in the DMV basketball community who’s worked with everyone from Kevin Durant to DeMarcus Cousins. After another summer of dominating performances, Fultz was fielding offers from Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and several other top programs. However, the University of Washington Huskies – having followed Fultz since his time on the JV squad – were ahead of the game and ultimately gained the trust of the young star’s mother, Ebony Fultz.

“When you’re born in the Washington metropolitan area, it can be dog-eat-dog,” Ebony told Bleacher Report last December. “Everyone is worried about what someone else is doing, who’s ahead of him, just a whole lot of jealousy. The way the people act in Seattle, that’s so much more Markelle. He’s nice, and they’re nice.”

In his lone season at Washington, Fultz showed plenty of promise on the court. Despite the Huskies’ struggles with a 9-22 record, he averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game and was named to the First Team All Pac-12. While some say Fultz’s year at Washington cost him name recognition, the 18-year-old has always been about show rather than tell.

“He is nowhere near a finished product. He has not reached his peak,” said Jones. “He’s going to do nothing but get better, and to me, that’s amazing because he already so good. I do believe his best basketball is still ahead of him.”

Fultz is so well-rounded that it’s difficult to pinpoint what kind of player he’ll be in the NBA. He shot 41 percent from the three-point line at Washington, so he could end up being the next Steph Curry. He excels at creating plays for teammates, so he could be the next John Wall.

Maybe he’ll be the first Markelle Fultz.

No matter what team drafts Fultz—the Boston Celtics currently have the best odds at the No. 1 pick—Fultz says he’s open to anything.

“If they need me to play the one, I can do that,” Fultz told Sports Illustrated in April. “Get somebody involved, get the other people open. But also, if they need me at the two, I can just score the ball. Or if you need me to do both, score at times… I can do anything you need.” 

The 2017 NBA draft is still in the distant future (June 22), but the draft lottery to determine which team gets the No. 1 pick takes place on Tuesday, May 16 in New York.

Until then, Fultz is back in the DMV area, where he works out with trainer Emmanuel Coulibaly and coach Williams. He’s expected to attend the draft combine this week in Chicago, but won’t participate in on-court activities.

Fultz flew under the radar for most of his career—especially compared to fellow draft prospect Lonzo Ball. While he doesn’t like making a scene, however, it’s clear that he’s the next big thing.

In the words of Kendrick Lamar, Fultz continues to “be humble,” but he will not sit down.


Breana Pitts

Special to the AFRO