As expected, the college career of Washington Huskies star Markelle Fultz will last only one season.
Fultz, the star freshman guard who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, announced Friday that he will declare for the NBA draft, in which he is projected to be the No. 1 pick.
Washington’s season ended with a 78-73 loss to USC on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The Huskies finished 9-22 and will not play in the postseason.
“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,” Fultz said in a statement released by the school, and in a video posted to his Twitter and Instagram pages. “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.”
A 6-foot-4 guard from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Fultz chose the Huskies over offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Arizona and other elite programs. He prepped at East Coast powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School, playing junior varsity as a 5-9 sophomore before moving to varsity as a junior and winning the league’s player of the year award. By his senior year of high school, he was a five-star recruit and perhaps the country’s most touted guard prospect.
His commitment to a struggling UW program surprised many, but the Huskies were one of the first power-conference schools to recognize his potential and offer him a scholarship. Fultz appreciated such loyalty, developed strong relationships with Romar and assistant coach Raphael Chillious — his primary recruiter — and says he never regretted his decision to play for the Huskies, even as they finished this season on a school-record 13-game losing streak.
“Of course, it hasn’t gone how I wanted it to go, but I’m happy,” Fultz said after Wednesday’s loss. “I’ve got brothers on this team. We stick together, even going through all that. I’ve built many, many relationships that are going to be with me forever.”
Fultz missed six of UW’s final eight games — and the last four in a row — because of a sore knee. In the 25 games he played, Fultz was mostly phenomenal, averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds, with 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range.
He set UW’s freshman scoring record with 579 points, and his per-game scoring average ranks second in UW single-season history. He was voted first-team All-Pac-12, and is one of 15 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, given annually to the nation’s top player.
Fultz has a chance to be the highest-drafted player in school history, an honor currently held by Bob Houbregs, who was selected No. 3 overall in 1953. DraftExpress and NBADraft.net both project Fultz to be the No. 1 pick.
But that is a source of frustration for many fans who have grown weary of watching Huskies players get drafted in the first round despite a lack of success during their UW careers.
Fultz is expected to be UW’s sixth first-round pick in the last six years, joining Marquese Chriss (2016), Dejounte Murray (2016), C.J. Wilcox (2014), Terrence Ross (2012) and Tony Wroten (2012). The Huskies haven’t made a single NCAA Tournament in that time.
Fultz is the fifth player under Romar to leave for the draft after one season, and the fourth in the last six years. Each of the previous four — Chriss, Murray, Wroten and Spencer Hawes — were selected in the first round.
“The last three years of Markelle Fultz’s basketball career have been nothing short of amazing,” Romar said in a statement released by the school. “He has made one of the quickest improvements of any athlete I’ve seen in a long time. Markelle has decided to enter the NBA draft 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. Even though he was only here for a short time, I truly believe he will be a Husky for life, and that started before he even enrolled at UW, as he went and supported our women’s team last year in the postseason in Maryland. We wish him the best of luck and look forward to following what will likely be an exciting career.”