BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Markelle Fultz arrived this weekend on the verge of making an announcement that few who saw him play early in his high school career could have imagined would carry so much significance. In the middle of the skills competition on Friday that serves as a prelude to the prestigious Elite 24 game, Fultz stood on a souped-up court overlooking the East River and verbally committed to Washington.
“It’s like a new world for me—going to a different place,” said Fultz, a native of Upper Marlboro, Md., who was one of 24 players selected for the Under Armour event. “Starting like a new life pretty much.”
SI.com chronicled Fultz’s rapid rise this spring. As a sophomore, he did not make the varsity team of his high school, DeMatha (Md.) Catholic. Stags coach Mike Jones said the decision to keep him on junior varsity that year was rooted largely in the makeup of the roster. That season, Fultz excelled against weaker competition, and he seamlessly transitioned to varsity the next year, winning conference player of the year honors after averaging 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Rivals.com did not have Fultz ranked as late as March of this year, but his recruiting stature soared during the spring as he performed well with his grassroots program, the DC Blue Devils, on the Under Armour Association circuit. Fultz garnered scholarship offers from more than 20 programs, including Arizona, Kentucky, Georgetown and Maryland. Kentucky was believed to be a strong contender to land Fultz after he described it as his “dream school.”
This month he took official visits to Arizona, Louisville and Washington, following previous unofficial trips to Kentucky and Louisville. By Friday afternoon, however, he had eliminated the Wildcats from consideration and identified Arizona, Louisville and Washington as his three finalists. Of those three programs, Washington has the weakest recent on-court track record, with zero NCAA tournament appearances since ‘11 plus 11th- and ninth-place Pac-12 finishes the last two years.
“[I’m] hoping to get them over the hump and make it into the Final Four—so that’s my goal right there,” said Fultz, who noted his relationship with the Huskies’ coaching staff as one of the major factors behind his decision. Another goal Fultz hopes to accomplish during his stint in college is to “go down there and make a new name for myself and let everybody know I’m one of the best players in the country.”
The timing of Fultz’s arrival is favorable for Washington and coach Lorenzo Romar, who has come under scrutiny in recent years as the Huskies’ performance has dipped. At the start of the 2016–17 season, Fultz will join a young backcourt needing to offset the loss of leading returning scorer in senior Andrew Andrews and former standout point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who transferred to in-state foe Gonzaga this off-season. What should Washington fans expect from Fultz?
At 6'4" 195 pounds, Fultz, the No. 23 player in the class of 2016 according to Rivals.com, is a skilled scorer who can create space with deft dribbling moves, attack the rim or knock down jump shots. Though he doesn’t possess eye-popping athleticism, Fultz is adept at rocking defenders off balance and then driving past them. He said his goal is to start at point guard for the Huskies, even though most recruiting websites currently list him as a shooting guard.
“I think I can be one of the best ones to ever play the game,” Fultz told SI.com in May. He projects well at that position in the NBA. The scouting website DraftExpress currently lists him as the No. 5 pick in its early 2017 mock draft.
Fultz is the second player in the class of 2016 to commit to the Huskies, along with center Samuel Timmins, a native of New Zealand. The program is set to bring in a strong 2015 class (ranked ninth nationally by Rivals.com) headlined by shooting guard Dejounte Murray and big men Noah Dickerson and Marquese Chriss. Still, Fultz is more highly regarded than all of those players, and his addition represents one of the biggest recruiting coups in program history.
“I feel relieved that I committed,” Fultz said. “So, now it’s time to dominate high school.”