CAMDEN, N.J. — Before Markelle Fultz can succeed in the NBA, he has to learn about the NBA. He did that on the first day of Sixers minicamp on Thursday in preparation for summer league.
“What he really has is a humility to want to learn,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers' assistant coach and director of player development who also coaches in summer league. “He asks a lot of questions.”
Fultz’s basketball knowledge is deep. A player doesn’t become the No. 1 overall pick without a strong understanding of the game, especially not a point guard. Still, college — and only one year of it — is literally a whole different ballgame than the NBA.
“I just want to be the best player I can be,” Fultz said. “In order to do that, I’ve got to learn the plays to the best of my ability. If I don’t know something, I’m not hesitating to ask a question.”
The Sixers cited Fultz’s humility as a strong character trait during the draft process. The 19-year-old’s willingness to learn is key on a young team.
“A lot of times when guys come in and they’ve got his pedigree or his reputation, they’re afraid to ask what they might think are real simple and basic questions,” Lange said. “But regardless of who the coach was, he was eager to want to learn, come up and make sure he could find a way to fit in. It’s going to be exciting to coach him over the next few weeks.”
Lange said Fultz inquired about plays, where he should be on the court after a pass and what he should be looking for from his teammates. Lange also praised Fultz’s ability to translate plays drawn up on the whiteboard into the scrimmages.
Fultz will put this knowledge to use over the next two weeks in summer league action. He said he wants to improve all areas of his game during this first taste of NBA competition.
“Everything,” Fultz said. “From the fundamentals all the way up to learning the defense, how we’re going to play defense. Offensively, learning the players and their scoring areas.”
Fultz shot around with Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas at the end of minicamp. (The current Sixers players except for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alex Poythress watched the scrimmages but did not participate in them.) Fultz is looking forward to building a chemistry with his teammates before the start of the season.
“I like his game,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is ready to lead the Sixers' summer league squad. “He’s crafty. He can handle the ball, run the court, pass the ball, finish at the rim, shoot the ball. I look forward to playing with him.”
Fultz played 5-on-5 on Thursday for the first time in what felt like "forever" to him. Whether it is this week in minicamp or next month in summer league, later this year in training camp or the regular season, Fultz could be a target of opponents who want to prove themselves against the No. 1 pick. Fultz is ready and welcomes it.
"Everybody in here is competitive," Fultz said. "No matter if I was the first pick or the last pick in the draft, everybody’s going to come out and compete. I would hope that everybody would give me their best shot because I want to get better myself and I’m going to give my best shot to everybody else."