Markelle Fultz was far and away the best player in the 2017 class, but when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the Philadelphia 76ers would be selecting him with the first overall pick, the moment certainly was not lost on the former Washington point guard.
“This is a dream come true, really, just all the hard work I put in coming into this,” Fultz told the media after hearing his name called. “I'm looking forward to going into this organization and just giving it my all.”
Fultz, a native of Upper Marlboro, MD, is the first player from the University of Washington to be selected with the number one pick, and the highest overall pick from the school since Brandon Roy was selected sixth overall in 2006.
“That was my goal,” Fultz said about dreaming of one day becoming the first overall pick. “In high school I told my trainer Keith I wanted to be the No. 1 player in the country and the No. 1 draft pick, so it was a goal I set out there, and that's what I was striving for.”
But the road to get to this moment was not easy, and Fultz admits he wasn’t sure if he would even get to the NBA. The story of his sudden rise has been told ad nauseam. He was just a 5-foot-9 sophomore when he was cut from his JV team at DeMatha High School, then grew six inches the following summer and set the recruiting scene on fire.
“Going into my 11th grade [at Dematha], and I just realized that I was doing stuff that other kids weren't doing, and it just started to work out for me, so I just kept working hard,” Fultz said.
By the end of his high school career he was a consensus five-star recruit, a FIBA Americas U-18 MVP and gold medalist. The climb may not have been easy, but Fultz persisted to get to where he wanted to be.
“My confidence and my goals never changed no matter what,” Fultz said. “It just made me realize that it's a milestone that I have to get over, a hill I have to get over, and I just started working even harder.
There's going to be bumps in the road, but that doesn't mean you've got to change your goal.”
The road ahead for Fultz now looks like smooth sailing. The 19-year-old will now join a budding young core of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the trio are expected to carry Philadelphia towards the promised land. While Fultz will have to develop some on-court chemistry with Embiid and Simmons, they seem to connect well off the court. Fultz has known Simmons since his days at Montverde, and noted that he talked to his No. 1 pick brethren throughout his freshman year at Washington.
“I've been texting him through the college process, and just getting advice through college and just wishing him good luck,” Fultz said.
There have been questions surrounding how the two will co-exist in the same backcourt, but Fultz seems willing to do whatever it takes to make it work.
“It's going to be times where maybe Ben brings up the ball or times where I'm bringing up the ball. It's going to do whatever we need to do to win,” Fultz said when asked about the pairing.
It will certainly take some time for this young team to mesh, but the future for the Sixers is brighter than ever. For the first time in forever, the team could very feasibly be in the playoffs next season. Fultz will undoubtedly be one of the driving forces behind that.
“It's, like I said, a great opportunity, and I'm very excited really...” Fultz said. “I'm just looking forward to going in there and giving it my all and hopefully changing the program around.”