First Picks Focused, Motivated
Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have more in common than just their top pick pedigree. The last two No. 1 picks in the draft, Simmons and Fultz – both relatively mellow by nature – seem to be bringing a purposeful edge into training camp.
While each prospect could very well rest on the lofty laurels he received coming out of college (Simmons at LSU, and Fultz at Washington), it was clear during Monday’s media day at the 76ers’ training complex that neither has any plans to do so.
For Simmons, the chip is definitely on the proverbial shoulder.
“For sure,” said the Australian, fully recovered from the right foot fracture that sidelined him a season ago. “I’ve always been like that, especially now being out a year. I feel like I just came back to the States, and nobody knows who I am, which is good. I like that. I like guys forgetting about me.”
Fultz spoke with a similar tone.
“I always had a chip on my shoulder, just growing up,” said Fultz, a product of the Washington, DC suburbs. His upbringing serves as the source of his drive.
“My mom’s a single mom, so she always preached to me – you’ve got to earn everything that you want,” Fultz said. “Whether that’s some food, whether that’s shoes, I always had to do something in the house – maybe clean the dishes or something – to get what I wanted.”
The mindset is one Fultz applies to everyday life. How strictly does he stick to the creed?
Even when presented with chances to get something for free, he says he typically declines. Fultz would rather earn it.
“If you want something, you’ve got to go get it.”
Separately, Simmons and Fultz have alluded to setting the bar high for their first respective NBA seasons. In comments made during the off-season, they referenced individual awards, and playoff berths alike.
Competition is a joy shared by the two youngsters, and is the aspect of basketball Simmons has been missing the most.
“I’m a very competitive person, so I love to be out there,” said Simmons. “I wish out was out there last season, but I had a whole year to get better, and get myself in the best position for the team, and I think I did a good job of that.”
Fultz too is fueled by a desire to improve, and become one of the game’s elite. He views competition as a tool for measuring where he stands, always.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get there,” said Fultz. “I love competing. At the end of the day, if I can compete, whether that’s trying to make a paper into the trash can, trying my shoe faster than you, I’m going to try to do it. That’s what makes life fun, being competitive, and just having fun with it.”
Okafor Feeling Good in Body and Spirit
If the goal is to hit the beach with a body that’s in great shape, then consider the mission accomplished for Jahlil Okafor.
During a handful of appearances he made during the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in August, a leaner version of the center was on display for all to see. His new vegan diet triggered the slim down, and has since become a well-documented subplot for his third campaign with the Sixers.
“I’m feeling great,” Okafor said Monday at media day. “It took some drastic changes to get to this point, and I’m feeling really good.”
The Duke product discovered that consuming dairy-based foods might have very well been at the root of the inflammation he experienced.
“Initially, that’s what urged me to go vegan. When I found out dairy was an inflammatory, which I had no idea about, I cut that out.”
Okafor then started to slowly eliminate steak, chicken, and fish. He liked the results. Omelettes were one of the hardest meals to give up.
Now, Okafor’s uncle cooks for him, helping him stay on the dietary straight and narrow.
“He keeps it interesting,” Okafor said of his uncle’s culinary work. “We figured out some pretty good things, some good substitutes, little combinations to make the food taste better.”
In foodie-fied Philadelphia, Okafor has found there are plenty of options available should he want to eat out. Govinda’s on Broad and South, and Blackbird Pizza in Society Hill have become trusted spots.
“At this point, I love it,” Okafor proudly said of going vegan. “I’m loving the way I’m looking, I’m loving the way I’m feeling. I’m going to keep doing it so I can stay healthy.”
The adjustment speaks to the broader approach Okafor is adopting in respect to his career.
“The one thing I’ve been challenging myself to do is control what I can,” he said. “That’s why I took the initiative to work as hard as I can this off-season with making diet changes, losing weight, just preparing the right way. That will make me more confident going into the season, knowing that I did everything possible to put myself in a position to succeed. That’s why I can come in here everyday and smile, because I know I’m doing what I can, controlling what I can.”
Saric Likes Staying Busy
Dario Saric admitted Monday what many of us can tell by his style of play. He likes being active.
The versatile forward heads into training camp fresh off a stellar EuroBasket run during which he averaged 14.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game.
Saric generated three double-doubles in six appearances for Croatia, helping his country reach the elimination stage of the tournament. He thought his third EuroBasket was a valuable experience.
“Of course, it’s intense,” said Saric. “Every game is like what we say in Europe ‘on a knife.’ You need to win every game, play tough every second of possession. It’s not like [pick up]. It’s more tough 5-on-5.”
Given that Saric finished up his EuroBasket stint relatively recently (September 9th), and that he only got back into town late last weekend, Bryan Colangelo indicated at Monday’s media day that the Sixers might ease the 23-year old back into the swing of things once practices get underway.
Saric said Monday he feels fresh for the season, and can’t wait to play with teammates new and old. For someone who found himself “confused” by how to handle vacation time this summer, he knows that taking it slow will probably be easier said than done.
“I like busy, because I’m all the time busy. I don’t know how to rest, how to think I have nothing for next five, six, seven days. Sometimes it’s hard when your mindset is different for so many years.”