CAMDEN – First things first.
Markelle Fultz is on track to play for the 76ers in summer league.
Billy Lange, the rising fifth-year assistant who will coach the Sixers in next week’s Utah Jazz Summer League, settled that issue by confirming as much to start his media availability Thursday, following the first practice of the team’s three-day mini-camp.
With that matter swiftly resolved, the Fultz focus then shifted quickly to the matter of how the No. 1 pick fared in his first on-court foray since being drafted last week. By all accounts – from coaches and fellow mini-camp invitees, right on down to the player himself – Fultz seemed to have a solid day.
“I’m pretty happy,” Fultz said Thursday at the Sixers’ training complex in Camden. “It wasn’t my best, [but] just to be my first time getting back out there, and getting accustomed to the play and everything, I’m pretty happy.”
The biggest adjustment Fultz figures to face in the immediate days ahead is reacquainting himself with 5-on-5 play. As much as team basketball has been a part of Fultz’s life, the full-court, 5-on-5 setting is one that’s become relatively foreign to him since the end of the college season. That’s because Fultz did most of his training and preparing for the draft on his own.
Oftentimes, high-profile blue-chippers like Fultz stick to private workouts during the pre-draft period. Other prospects, namely those projected to go outside the lottery stage, don’t have such a luxury. Instead, these players spend the weeks leading up to the draft traveling from city to city, trying out for upwards of a dozen teams in hopes of getting noticed.
So, yes, given Fultz’s limited 5-on-5 work lately, a modest transition of sorts is to be expected.
More than anything Thursday, Fultz sounded eager to return to the court, in the company of other players. His goal was to have fun.
“I’ve been waiting to come out here soon as I knew I was coming out here,” said Fultz, who as a freshman averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. “Now that I have a chance to get here and put all my effort into it, I’m happy.”
The Sixers appeared to be pleased with Fultz’s debut day as well, particularly in respect to the way the freshly-minted 19-year old conducted his business.
“He really has a humility to want to learn,” said Lange. “He asks a lot of questions. A lot of times, when guys come in that have his pedigree, his reputation, they’re afraid to ask what they might think are real simple or basic questions. Regardless of who the coach was, he was eager to want to learn, come up and just make sure he could find a way to fit in, so it’s going to be exciting to coach him over these next few weeks.”
What topics did Fultz want to find out more about? Things like the details behind offensive plays, his responsibilities after making passes, and how to effectively anticipate teammates’ actions, according to Lange.
“He was really good at picking something up off a whiteboard, and being able to actually apply it to a live scrimmage,” Lange said.
“I just want to be the best player I can be,” said Fultz, when asked Thursday about his inquisitive nature. “In order to do that, I got to learn the plays to the best of my abilities. If I don’t know something, I’m not hesitating to ask a question.”
This mindset is one that Fultz intends to bring with him to Utah, where next week, the Sixers will take part in their first batch of summer league contests. The team intends to give Fultz, whom President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo has labeled a “prototypical combo guard,” reps both on and off the ball.
Fultz said Thursday he’s willing to do whatever necessary to help the Sixers win, whether that be on the summer league exhibition circuit, or during the regular season. He’s hoping the time he spends in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas will only serve to acclimate him that much more.
“Really, just learn how to play with others, which is not hard, because I’m an unselfish player,” said Fultz, who paced the Pac-12 in assist percentage last season. “Just getting up and down. There’s no way to train for 5-on-5 except for playing it.”
Among the 14 attendees at the first day of the Sixers’ summer mini-camp, Aaron Harrison, who finished the 2016-2017 campaign with the Delaware 87ers, was one of several players boasting past professional experience. His feedback on Fultz was positive.
“He’s really athletic, gets into the gaps, finds people really well,” said Harrison, a swing man who posted 17.0 points per game for the Sevens. “He’s special at doing that. That’s what I really saw.”
“He’s going to be a good player,” said Isaiah Briscoe.
Undrafted last week, Briscoe, you’d have to believe, probably has a decent gauge for talent, given all of the future pros he played with at Kentucky the past two years. He and Fultz were on the same scrimmage squad Thursday.
“He loves to compete,” said Briscoe, “and that’s all you can ask for.”
In the Sixers’ big picture, specifically in relation to Fultz, Thursday represented the smallest of initial snapshots. Nonetheless, the first impression was a solid one.
“There’s always been excitement here,” said Lange. “This is a basketball city. Our recent history hasn’t been as good as this city wants it to be. Now, they feel like there’s a real big sense of hope…and you can feel that vibe. Even in our own building, you can feel that vibe.”
Especially now that Fultz is in the house.
Mini-Camp Mini Note…
• Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Nik Stauskas were among the Sixers’ returning players in the gym during Thursday’s mini-camp practice. Markelle Fultz thinks their presence will only help to expedite the creation of chemistry.
“Just building a relationship right now, and working out,” the rookie said. “We’ve got a goal, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”