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Markelle Fultz Is the Star Philly Needs

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Trading for Fultz is the culmination of The Process.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

There’s always a debate in Philadelphia about whether an athlete is truly a “Philly guy.” While that’s typically a nonsensical argument that relies on a lot of broad generalizations, I think Markelle Fultz fits that mold.

A 6’4” point guard who can score smoothly and effortlessly at all three levels—and is the assumed first-overall pick in next week’s draft—doesn’t sound like the blue collar hero this city goes gaga over, but Fultz wasn’t always this guy. As a sophomore in high school, a time when future college stars start having YouTube mixtapes with hundreds of thousands of views, Fultz was stuck on the junior varsity team for Dematha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland. His family wasn’t on ESPN or Fox Sports 1 advocating for a billion-dollar sneaker deal. He was just a kid playing basketball.

Flash forward to his senior year and Fultz was a five-star prospect and turning down offers from blue blood schools like Kentucky, North Carolina and the like in order to commit to Washington, a school that had keyed in on him early in the recruiting process.

This unusual path to the top of the draft isn’t lost on Fultz. Speaking to media members at the Sixers’ practice facility following his pre-draft workout Saturday, Fultz made it known that his perseverance is what has gotten him to the spot where he’s the most coveted prospect in the NBA.

“It was a dream I had since I was a young kid,” Fultz said. “But like I said, it just shows how much hard work I put in and how dedicated I am to do what I do. I set goals for myself and go out there and achieve them.

“I’m just a hard worker and I’m going to do whatever it takes on any team I go to to win.”

Just dub the audio of “Gonna Fly Now” over his DraftExpress scouting video. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild and envision him riding down Broad Street in a parade float as one of the three potential saviors of the Sixers franchise along with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

“I come to Philly a lot, just showing my love for the city. I’m out here. I want to show love,” Fultz added. Philly is only about a three-hour ride for him normally from his home in Maryland.

He told reporters that he’s definitely going to have some cheesesteaks with him mom while in town. I pressed him on what cheesesteak spot he’d go to being the insane Philadelphian I am. Fultz said he’s had Larry’s before, but would let his mom decide which spot they’d hit during this trip. This town will go crazy over him if he becomes a Sixers next week.

While his actual workout didn’t set the world on fire, as he connected on just four of the 18 threes he took in an around-the-world shooting drill, per the Bucks Courier Times’ Tom Moore, the five minutes or so that reporters were able to see him work out isn’t of much consequence. He had some dunks in imaginary fast break scenarios, which were fun, but again, are ultimately meaningless.

What matters is that the Sixers have another shot at selecting a potential franchise-altering star. With a rumored trade with the Celtics for the first-overall pick feeling like it could go through at any moment, spirits are high in Sixers World for the first time since that dynamite run the team had in January. Fultz could be the player for the Sixers who lets the good times roll for years on end, not just one month in the middle of a single season.

The weather switched from pouring rain to a bright sky with high humidity to a sun shower over the course of the 25 minutes it took me to drive to the Sixers’ practice facility today in Camden, N.J., mimicking the whole roller coaster feel this Fultz saga has had. From the elation of seeing that Knicks card come up at No. 8 on Lottery Night to the disappointment of only landing the No. 3 pick and the widely-held assumption that the Celtics would draft Fultz, it felt as if the dream of Fultz in Sixers red, white and blue had died.

Yet within seconds of Marc Stein hitting send on a tweet Friday afternoon, it felt like those gray clouds had passed the Sixers. Finally. After four years of an endlessly mocked rebuild and essentially a quarter of a century of incompetence dating back to the day the Sixers dealt Charles Barkley, Sixers fans are finally set up to reap the harvest they patiently waited for. Sam Hinkie built the orchard and Bryan Colangelo grabbed a bushel off it and is trying to send it packing to Boston for Fultz. When it feels too good to be true, it usually is in Philadelphia, but maybe we’ve reached a new era in this city where optimism is the norm instead of a fleeting ray of sunshine.