“We’re on the sidelines going ‘Did he really just do that?’ ” Thybulle said. “Is this real life?”
The “he” in this case is freshman point guard Markelle Fultz, the Huskies’ most-hyped recruit in program history. And when his coach or teammates were asked to pick their “wow” moment when watching him, they weren’t exactly scrambling for material.
Even so, calling Fultz something like “The Human Highlight Reel” might cause some to take pause. But only because they aren’t entirely convinced he’s human.
According to draftexpress.com, Fultz is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Bleacher Report also has him in the top slot, and no prominent mock draft site has him lower than fourth.
Does this mean Fultz, who stands 6-foot-4 and owns a 6-10 wingspan, is going to snap the Huskies’ five-year NCAA Tournament drought? Not necessarily. But it does mean this season is going to be a whole lot of fun.
At media day Wednesday, Fultz was asked which part of his game he takes the most pride in. Could it be passing? Defense? His ever-improving jump shot?
But the 18-year-old didn’t specify an area – just a mindset.
“Trying to be the best player on the court,” Fultz said. “And making people realize it.”
The second part of that quote is what might skyrocket ticket sales at the Hec Ed, because “making people realize it” goes beyond boxing out and slipping screens. “Making people realize it” implies that fans will have to ice their chins after their jaws hit the floor.
Since Romar took over the program, nine Huskies have gone in the NBA’s first round, and four in the lottery. But at this stage in their college careers? The head coach says Fultz is ahead of all of them.
“You watch him two or three minutes, the way he moves on the floor with his size, you realize that one’s pretty good. But what you don’t see behind the scenes is what kind of teammate he is,” said Romar, adding that Fultz is the best shot-blocking point guard he has ever seen. “Markelle doesn’t play with the idea of trying to make the NBA. He plays to win.”
Unless they are red-carpet-bound actors, the other Huskies seem to agree with Romar’s assessment of Fultz as a teammate. Freshman forward Sam Timmins said he’d have no idea Fultz was the top recruit based on the way he carried himself, and sophomore Crisp emphasized how Fultz’s mother keeps him humble.
Still, while it might give them another reason to root for him, most fans don’t care whether or not Fultz is grounded. They want to know if he can take the Huskies to new heights.
Convincing the public UW has improved from last season could be a tough sell. Not only did the team lose Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the draft, it lost Pac-12 scoring champion Andrew Andrews to graduation.
Sure, players such as Thybulle, Crisp, and Malik Dime have another year of experience — and the return of Noah Dickerson and addition of Timmins gives them size. But is that enough to make up for what they lost?
Well, it really depends on Fultz.
A truly great college basketball player can single-handedly add 10 wins to a team’s total. In the past six years, advanced statistics say Kemba Walker, Anthony Thomas and Frank Kaminsky have done just that.
Are those huge names? Yes. Is that an unfair standard? Maybe. But by most accounts, Fultz is blessed with similar potential.
Granted, we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves here. It’s mid-October, and Markelle has yet to prove anything on the college level.
Sports are littered with athletes overwhelmed by their own hype … but something about this guy feels different.
Notorious for not smiling in pictures, Fultz says he plans on flashing his pearly whites more in college. You get the feeling he’s going to cause fans to do the same thing.
They’re likely to take in plenty of highlights this season. The only challenge will be picking their favorite.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.