SEATTLE — Markelle Fultz walked into the room Wednesday and was immediately engulfed.
Of all the eventual NBA players Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has brought into his program over the past 15 years, none came in matching the talent or hype that Fultz brings as a freshman.
“Here at the University of Washington, coming in the door, I think he’s the best,” Romar said.
Washington’s first regular-season game is still a month away, but the buzz surrounding Fultz – a 6-foot-4 guard – has been building for months. Whether it’s because of his performance as part of the U.S. national team at the under-18 FIBA Americas tournament in July in Chile or during Washington’s summer overseas tour of Australia and New Zealand, Fultz is the focal point for the Huskies as the season draws closer.
Futlz arrives at Washington as perhaps the most decorated recruit ever. When Romar first made contact with Fultz, he was regarded as a top prospect, but not among the elite of his recruiting class. By the time he plays his first regular-season game for the Huskies on Nov. 13 against Yale, Fultz will step on the court as a presumptive top 5 pick in next June’s NBA draft.
He understands the attention. So do his teammates.
“Markelle is impressive. He does things in practice where we might be on the sidelines or something and I’ll look over at someone and be like, `Did he just do that? Is that real life?”‘ forward Matisse Thybulle said. “He’s a special player.”
A year ago, Washington was an unknown because of its youth. And while the Huskies’ group of freshmen grew up quickly, there were still enough mistakes made that another March came and went without an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Huskies finished 19-15 and lost in the second round of the NIT. It was the fifth straight season the Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament, increasing the external debate over Romar’s future.
For his part, Romar said it’s not pressure he’s feeling, but anticipation about how this year could play out.
“We want to get to that tournament. We want to be the best that we can be. We can’t wait for practice. I don’t define pressure that way,” Romar said. “‘Ready to get going. We get another shot at this now, we’re going to make this happen.’ That’s how I feel.”
The Huskies lost their top three scorers from a year ago with the graduation of guard Andrew Andrews (20.9 points per game), and the early departures of first-round NBA picks Dejounte Murray (16.1) and Marquese Chriss (13.7). No returning player averaged more than Noah Dickerson’s 7.5 points per game.
But Romar is confident the scoring void will be filled by others. Fultz will clearly take his share, with others like Malik Dime, David Crisp and Dominic Green expected to increase their contributions from a year ago.
“I think we can have more guys averaging double figures than we’ve had in probably the last five years,” Romar said. “There are guys that are capable of stepping up.”