With his back to the basket, Markelle Fultz sank three underhanded shots Sunday from beyond halfcourt at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. It was 2:30 in the afternoon — horse-around time — some 90 minutes before he’d make the most heralded debut in 115 seasons of Washington Huskies basketball.
Here’s how the rest of Fultz’s milestone afternoon went:
3:52 p.m. — Fultz lines up on the court with his teammates for the national anthem. Toward the end of the song, he dabs his eyes, and I wonder if this is a profound emotional moment for him — the realization of a dream — or just a kid wiping away some sweat.
“I was focused on the game,” Fultz would say later. “I wasn’t worried about anything or anybody. I just wanted to get the ‘W.’ ”
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4:06 — Fultz is the fifth and final Huskies starter introduced. The modest-sized crowd — about a third of the seats are unoccupied — offers its loudest applause of the introductions for No. 20.
4:08 — In what’s the first touch of Fultz’s career, he dribbles the length of the court and converts a layup in traffic.
4:11 — When Fultz misfires for the first time, it occurs to me that Michael Jordan once said he missed 9,000 shots in his career.
“I’ve lost about 300 games,” Jordan added. “Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
4:18 — Fultz, with precisely calculated timing, jumps three feet off the floor to block a Yale shot. Although the ball goes out of bounds and the Bulldogs retain possession, it is one of those moments that explains what the hype is about.
4:25 — Yale takes an 18-9 lead into the first extended time out. The visitors from the Ivy League seem determined to prove their first-round victory over Baylor in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament wasn’t a fluke.
4:40 — Fultz, who has a reputation of being streaky from the outside, drives the lane for his second basket. He’ll finish the first half with six points on 3-for-7 shooting, with three rebounds and two assists and two turnovers.
While not scintillating, the numbers suggest what Fultz might accomplish when he achieves a comfort zone later in the season.
5:12 — On the first possession of the second half, Fultz finally earns a trip to the free-throw line. Considering how often the point guard touches the ball and his inclination to drive, Fultz should end up leading the Huskies in free-throw attempts.
5:18 — A Fultz dunk in transition brings down the house. It cuts Yale’s lead to 10 points, but the Bulldogs are using their will and know-how to own the offensive boards.
5:43 — Fultz’s first successful three-pointer is released from the right corner. By now, we’ve seen every phase of Fultz’s game.
5:51 — A Fultz bank shot that follows his jumper from just inside the line makes it a 77-73 game. He’s taking over when his team needs him most.
6:02 — But, oh, those missed free throws. When Fultz clanks back-to-back attempts with less than 1:30 remaining, some fans head for the exits.
6:13 — Fultz fires away from the boonies for the basket that gives him 30 points in a 98-90 defeat.
6:30 — Head coach Lorenzo Romar is asked if he can recall watching a player make a more impressive college debut than Fultz’s.
“Not in a game that counts,” he says. “He did a nice job. A very nice job.”
Romar is usually expansive with his answers, but his mind is wrapped up in the rebounding differential that beat his team.
Besides, there will be plenty more opportunities to gush about the legend of Markelle Fultz.