March 10, 2017

SEATTLE (AP) Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz has declared for the NBA draft, where he is expected to be among the top five picks.

Fultz made the expected decision on Friday, ending a rocky season with the Huskies in which he led the Pac-12 Conference in scoring but missed six games because of a knee injury. He watched his team finish 2-16 in conference play.

Fultz was a star when he was on the floor, displaying a mix of skills never before seen at that level at Washington. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game and would have been in the discussion for conference player of the year if the Huskies had a better record. Fultz is likely to be the highest drafted player ever to come out of Washington.

''It's been an honor to play in front of the Husky fans and I really appreciate all of the support you guys have given me,'' he said in a statement. ''After sitting down with my mom and the coaching staff, I've made the decision to enter the NBA draft. Although the season hasn't gone as planned, it's really truly been a blessing to be here. I've learned a lot of lessons on and off the court, especially from coach (Lorenzo) Romar and his coaching staff. I'm always going to be a Husky for life.''

It's been a rapid ascension for Fultz, going from being an overlooked high school player to a potential top pick in the NBA draft. Fultz plays with a deliberate pace and is a true point guard - but with the temperament to be an explosive athlete and scorer.

Fultz, who is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, took a chance with one of the first colleges to reach out to him and moved across the country for his one season of college ball.

The year went far from expected. Washington suffered its worst record under Romar. Fultz missed six of the final eight games of the season because of his sore right knee, raising concerns there could be a long-term issue that could have an impact on his NBA status.

Despite the injury, Fultz had moments that wowed. He scored 30 or more points in three straight games in conference play, including a season-best 37 points and eight assists in an overtime win over Colorado. Fultz nearly had a triple-double against Washington State and led Washington in scoring in 20 of his 25 games.

That productivity just didn't lead to victories. Washington didn't win a game after Jan. 18 and after starting the year 4-1 went 5-20 the rest of the way.

''He has made one of the quickest improvements of any athlete I've seen in a long time,'' Romar said. ''Markelle has decided to enter the NBA fraft and we totally support his decision. We appreciate him giving his all, on and off the court, while he was part of our program and I will enjoy watching him play for many years to come.''


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