A handful of the Washington Huskies’ most important men’s basketball players sat in different corners of the Founder’s Club room at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Wednesday, fielding questions from reporters about the upcoming season.
There was Matisse Thybulle, a sophomore guard whom the Huskies expect to score more this season.
There was David Crisp, a sophomore guard who will share point-guard duties and should also carry more offensive responsibilities. Same with Dominic Green, another sophomore guard who coach Lorenzo Romar describes as the most improved player on the team.
But when Markelle Fultz walked into the room, a crowd quickly formed around him, an early indication of just how much attention the star freshman guard is going to receive this season.
“I’m used to it,” he said.
He should be. After a stellar prep career at DeMatha Catholic High in Maryland, Fultz collected just about every postseason honor and award imaginable. He was a consensus five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American. He was invited to the Jordan Brand Classic. He made the USA men’s U18 National Team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 championship in Chile this past summer. Fultz was MVP of that tournament.
A 6-foot-4 point guard, Fultz is currently projected by DraftExpress as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. He will likely be a first-team preseason All-America pick. Romar calls him the best freshman, “coming in the door,” that he’s ever had in 14 seasons at UW.
But on Wednesday, a month before UW’s first game, Fultz said he simply wants to win basketball games for the Huskies, and he’ll worry about his professional prospects later.
“I don’t even think about the NBA,” he said during his first interview with Seattle media. “I think when people play like they already made it, they don’t play as hard as they can possibly play. They just think everybody is supposed to respect them, they don’t have to play defense, stuff like that.
“I play to win, each play, each possession. I hate losing. I’m not even worried about the NBA. I’m worried about this season, these guys, helping them out, becoming the best player they can be, and making sure I look the best I can.”
He’s already making an impact, Romar said, particularly because of how unselfish he is.
“Those intangibles go a long way in terms of his character and what he’s about, to help your team be the best that it can be,” Romar said.
Romar said the Huskies benefited from their summer tour to Australia and New Zealand, where they played five games against professional and college teams and finished with a 3-2 record.
Fultz led the Huskies with an average of 21.4 points per game during the trip.
“I think we have been able to kind of look and see who’s going to be close to our starters and our top eight or nine quicker than we’ve ever been able to do,” Romar said.
Last year, the Huskies switched nearly every screen when they were on defense. They won’t do that as much this season, Romar said, because they don’t have as many freshmen on their roster. “We didn’t want to sit back and not be in attack mode,” Romar said, “so we decided to switch a lot more because we were so young.” … Not switching as much should help the Huskies rebound better. They ranked 338th out of 351 teams in defensive rebounding percentage last season. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be a better rebounding team this year,” Romar said. Why? “We have better rebounders. It’s the truth. Right now as we chart our rebounders every day in practice, the top four rebounders are new players. We have guys that are better at rebounding the basketball.”