BOSTON – If the Celtics do as expected and take Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, the 19-year-old will find himself in an unfamiliar position.
Since bursting onto the national landscape as a high school junior, Fultz has fought to cement a place for himself as one of the game’s best players among his peers.
In Boston, he’ll be fighting for something else: playing time.
The 6-foot-4 guard will join a Celtics roster that’s stuffed with backcourt talent, some of which will likely not be around by the time he would arrive in the fall.
But even if the Celtics were to trim a roster spot or two in the backcourt, the fight for minutes will still be great.
While it’s far too soon to say how much Fultz would play as a rookie, his high school coach Mike Jones doesn’t believe his former pupil will have a hard time adjusting to whatever role he has been cast to play.
“He wants to win so whatever, whoever he plays for, if it’s Boston and they decide Markelle, ‘this is the role we need you to play in order for us to be a championship contender or a championship team,’ Markelle's going to embrace that and do as well as he can,” Jones said in an exclusive interview with CSN. “I would never bet against him, in terms of whether or not he’s going to play.”
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If anything, seeing limited time will only make him work harder to get on the floor.
Jones, who has been a coach with Team USA, in addition to coaching Victor Oladipo in high school, has seen first-hand how Fultz responds to adversity.
As a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, Fultz tried out for varsity but did not make the team.
Fultz was just 5-foot-9 at the time. Jones said he had not yet to hit his growth spurt which was a big factor in why he cut him.
“Obviously with the talent that he had, we did not want to have him basically playing sparse minutes on the varsity level,” Jones said. “We figured that if he played on the JV level with some really good players he would have an opportunity to really grow into a leadership role and that's exactly what he did. That was probably one of the best JV teams we've ever had in our school’s history and Markelle was definitely the catalyst for everything they did. So much so that when we moved him up to the varsity level at the end of the season, he hit the ground running. There was no adjustment needed, and obviously, he was the best player in the DC area, he was the player of the year.”
His play on the junior varsity level got the attention of many, including an assistant coach at the University of Washington, who was passing by at the time but took note of Fultz and began to recruit him afterward.
Fultz, who played at the Washington for one season, learned how to handle initial setbacks, without allowing it to affect his own growth as a player – an important quality for a player taken as high as he will be, in joining a team like the Celtics that’s among the best teams in the NBA.
“No matter who or what guards are on the Boston Celtics roster, Markelle is able to play on the ball, off the ball, he’s able to play with other really good players, and I think that’s going to be something that’s definitely to his advantage. A lot of other guys are going to have that adjustment; he’s not going to.”
BOSTON – With all the changes the Celtics went through over the summer, seeing more rookies on the floor this season was a given.
Yes, only three games into the season and the Celtics have played more rookies than any team under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.
And in the 102-92 victory at Philadelphia on Friday night, the Celtics (1-2) played almost as many first-year players (five) as veterans (six).
The youth movement here in Boston has been sped up a bit by the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, compounded by a left ankle sprain to Marcus Smart that Smart said won’t keep him out any more than Friday night in Philly.
Even if Smart is back in the Celtics lineup Tuesday night against New York, that doesn’t change the fact that Boston will continue to need rookies to step up and contribute going forward as they did on Friday.
And while there’s an old adage about experience being the greatest teacher, Boston’s youngsters are going to have to fast-forward past some of those on-the-floor growing pains for the Celtics to stay among the top teams in the East.
“Everybody talks about young players having to learn by going through experience,” said Stevens. “Why don’t we just watch film and learn? Learn from things we can control and in the interim, let’s beat the age thing. Let’s not talk about the age thing. Let’s talk about how we can be better at what we can control and how we can learn and grow every day and expedite the learning curve.
Stevens added, “because they are going to get opportunities all the way down the line, let’s not focus on trying to learn from experience; let’s focus on learning from every day and see if we can get a little bit better every day.”
The one rookie who has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game early on has been Jayson Tatum.
Selected with the third overall pick last June, Tatum has been among the NBA's most productive rookies in this first week of the season.
Tatum’s 35.3 minutes played per game is tops among all rookies. His 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds rank seventh and fourth among his first-year brethren.
Stevens loves what he has seen thus far from Tatum, but believes he’s capable of making an even greater impact sooner rather than later.
“I like him to shoot it on the catch more,” Stevens said. “Because he has tremendous touch. When he shoots it in rhythm with confidence, the ball finds the net. He’s one of those guys; he’s a natural scorer. But his ability to read the game … he’s very intelligent. It’s been more evident on the defensive end. He’s gonna pick his spots offensively now. But we want him to be aggressive and first and foremost, be a threat to shoot it every time he catches it.
Stevens added, “I guess it should feel pretty good when you’re 19 years old and your coach is begging you to shoot it.”
How quickly Tatum and the rest of Boston’s youngsters grow into the roles they will be asked to play this season can do nothing but help the Celtics adapt to what has already been a season with major changes needing to be made.
“You saw [against Philadelphia], we had Shane [Larkin], we had Guerschon [Yabusele], we had guys coming in that played the game at a high level and we need them to contribute,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “For me to see that and witness that, it makes me nothing but proud and happy to have teammates that are ready to play. It’s not always going to look perfect because we’re still gaining knowledge about one another. But as long as we’re out there competing, having each other’s backs, that’s all that matters.”
BOSTON – As expected, the NBA has fined Celtics guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for using “inappropriate language” toward a fan at the Friday night game in Philadelphia.
The incident occurred at halftime as Irving and his teammates were heading to the locker room, trailing by four. Boston went on to win 102-92 for their first victory of the season.
A fan yelled, “Hey, where’s LeBron?” to which Irving replied with a lewd suggestion to the yeller.
The Celtics practiced on Saturday with Irving addressing the incident.
When asked if he had any regrets about the incident, Irving replied, “Hell no. Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s social media platform we live on.
Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”
When asked about the incident on Saturday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he had not seen the video but was aware of it.
“People make mistakes; hopefully learn from them and move on,” Stevens said. “There’s a right and wrong. And if you’re in the wrong you have to own up to it and that’s that.”
It was the second such fine levied by the league in as many days.
New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins was fined $25,000 for "inappropriate language" toward a fan when the Pelicans lost 103-91 at Memphis on Wednesday.