Editor’s note: NBC Sports California’s third “King of the Day” this season is De’Aaron Fox. Stay with our digital and TV coverage all day long to learn everything about the Kings' starting point guard.
SACRAMENTO -- Talent oozes from De’Aaron Fox. He hasn’t put it all together quite yet, but he’s close. When he is flying down the court in a full sprint and in attack mode, there is not a defender in the NBA who can guard him, and he’s starting to realize his potential.
Taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Kings have made Fox the face of their franchise. It’s the responsibility that comes with being the most talented player on a team, but it may be counter to his personality.
Growing up in New Orleans and later Houston, Fox wasn’t exactly the life of the party off the court. While he had plenty of friends, he preferred to chill at home.
“He was a homebody then, and he’s a homebody now,” Lorraine Fox, De’Aaron’s mother told NBC Sports California. “He would rather the kids in the neighborhood come to his house, as opposed to him going to their house. So my house was always the house full of kids because everyone would come over because De’Aaron was not going to go out.”
NBA players are people just like anyone else. Some live in the fast lane, while others prefer a slower way of life. Fox prefers to settle in with his two huskies, Rose and Mickey, and play "Call of Duty."
“He still don’t like to go out a lot, he’s at home, still doing the same thing he was doing probably in fifth and sixth grade -- playing video games,” Lorraine said.
It started with Fox playing "NBA 2K" and other sports games. He would learn moves in the game and then go practice them on the court, according to his mother. Now, it’s a way for him to relax and take his mind off of the game of basketball.
Basketball and video games. Life could be worse for the 22-year-old point guard.
Leading up to the 2017 draft, Fox made it very clear that Sacramento was a perfect place for him. At first it seemed like a bit of lip service, but according to his mom, the city's vibe always intrigued him.
“He’s low-key, he’s not big city, I want to be out and about in the club scene or that kind of stuff,” Lorraine said. “So Sacramento is a good fit for him because there’s not a lot of nightlife and distractions.”
Despite enjoying life away from the spotlight, basketball was always the path for the 6-foot-3 speedster. He began playing at a young age, and he started garnering college scholarship interest as a seventh grader.
By his sophomore year of high school, he began getting national attention. That was the first time Fox and his family realized that he might have a shot to make it to the NBA.
That was when Fox went all-in on his dream.
“He says he doesn’t have a backup plan because that takes him away from his original plan,” Lorraine said. “If you focus on ‘what I’m going to do if,’ then you’re not focusing on, ‘what I’m going to do to get where I want to go.’ ”
So far, so good. Fox is in line for a massive contract extension with the Kings next summer. He still has ground to cover as an NBA player, but he is beginning to convert potential into production, and he’s not even close to his ceiling.
De'Aaron Fox has boundless potential on the court -- and all the room for growth you'd expect from a 22-year-old off of it. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports Images)
Not the complete package
On the court, Fox is a budding star. He’s the fastest player in the league, and he’s just figuring out how to fully use his gift.
Off the court, Fox has at least one glaring hole in his game.
“De’Aaron don’t know how to cook nothin’,” Lorraine said.
When he was younger, Fox and his brother Quentin would go down to the corner store and buy ramen noodles and eat them dry with just the spice package mixed in.
“They would just carry around bags of crumbled up noodles, that was like their meal of the day,” Lorraine said. “He tried cooking it a couple of times in the microwave, and he did it three times before he realized that he had to put water in it. So yeah -- he cooks nothing.”
De’Aaron tried to explain his mishap in more detail, but it didn’t help his case.
“I was probably in fifth or sixth grade and it was in the cups, right,” Fox explained. “So I was in a rush, and I grab a cup, and I didn’t put water in it and just put it in the microwave. So it burns.”
Not one to give up easily on anything, Fox repeated the process again, burning a second cup. And then another. Eventually, he read the instructions, but not before the entire house smelled of burnt ramen.
When asked if he can scramble an egg, Fox replied that he knows how to boil an egg. When asked how long it takes to boil an egg, Fox said, “like 20 minutes.”
The correct answer is not 20 minutes. Hopefully, he knows that to boil an egg, you need to put water in the pan.
Fox has never had to learn how to cook and if all goes well in his career, he doesn’t plan on learning, either. He went straight from his parents' home to the University of Kentucky, where his meals were taken care of. It’s no different in the NBA, where the Kings have a staff working to feed the players at all hours.
He’s an expert at ordering takeout, which works just fine when you are a 22-year-old professional athlete who works out seven days a week.
Fox missed a large chunk of the season with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, but he came back noticeably stronger after an aggressive rehab. (Photo: Kelley L. Cox, USA Today Sports Images)
Early season setback
After an 0-5 start to the season, the Kings looked like they were finding their sea legs. They won three of their next four games, and there was hope that the team could climb out of the hole they dug.
On Nov. 11, moments before media was allowed onto the Kings’ practice facility floor, Fox stepped on a teammate's foot. He limped off the floor under his own power, and the Kings didn't know the extent of the injury until later that evening.
“It was definitely difficult, I’ve never been through anything like that before,” Fox said. “I’d never had a serious injury.”
A Grade 3 ankle sprain is a brutal diagnosis for an NBA player. It’s a complete tear of the ligament, which is usually an eight-to-12 week injury. Most players miss in the neighborhood of 30 games with the injury.
Fox took the rehab process seriously and pushed to get back on the floor as soon as possible. He even stayed back in Sacramento while the team was on the road, working with the training staff and player development coach Rico Hines.
“It was a lot of fun to be honest with you,” Hines said of the experience. “He attacked his rehab like a true professional. We had some long days in here where we were in this gym for [five or six] hours a day. He was diligent, he worked hard, he didn’t complain. Whatever we asked from him, he did it.”
Fox looked noticeably bigger when he started getting closer to a return. He had packed on muscle, specifically in his upper body, during the process. He wasn’t able to run and keep in game shape because of the nature of the injury, but that didn’t stop him from doing everything in his power to get back.
“You work so hard when you can’t play,” Fox said. “It’s draining because you feel like you’re working so hard that you want to be on the court. Obviously, you’ve got to go through a process, but I feel like it made me better. I definitely came back a little slow, and I think it’s picking up now.”
Fox missed 17 games over five weeks with the injury. He was a little heavy-footed on his return, but it didn’t take him long to get his legs underneath him. His recovery time was nothing short of remarkable.
“He really worked his butt off in here,” Hines said. “He gained some weight, he gained some muscle and at the same time, our thing was to make him a better player when he got back. Still be De’Aaron, but make him a little bit better during this tough time.”
While sitting out, Fox had plenty of time to study the game as well. He watched countless hours of film, both of his opponents and how he might make the Kings better when he eventually returned. Part of that study included dissecting the player who replaced him in the starting lineup while he was down.
During the offseason, the Kings invested heavily in veteran point guard Cory Joseph. The idea was for Joseph to play limited minutes behind Fox and maybe even steal a few minutes playing alongside the Kings’ starting point guard.
The ankle injury changed the trajectory of the season for not only Fox, but Joseph. While Fox sat on the bench with a severely sprained left ankle, he studied his mentor with an eye on improving when he finally got a shot to return.
“Watching him the 17 games I was out defensively, it was crazy,” Fox said of Joseph. “He guarded LeBron [James], he guarded Luka [Doncic], he guarded James [Harden], Dame [Lillard]. What he did against all those guys is definitely great. He’s not the strongest guy, but he’s really athletic. Not the most athletic, not the tallest, not the quickest, but he’s extremely solid on defense.”
Fox and Joseph are built nothing alike. They don’t even play a similar style. But Joseph is a seasoned NBA role player who rarely is out of position. He understands the game and has an attention to detail that a younger player hasn’t developed yet. Joseph has made a living filling in the gaps behind high-end starters, and he relies on his experience and understanding of the game more than his athleticism.
While Fox can learn plenty from Joseph, he also knows that in order to reach the next level, he has to play to his own personal skill set and mix in technique along the way.
“With my physical attributes and the way I feel like I can anticipate things, I feel like I’m one of those guys that can go for those plays,” Fox said. “Obviously you want to get them more often than not, but I feel like I try to put myself in the position to make plays defensively.”
Where Joseph is the steady hand, Fox is a dynamic playmaker and gambler. The two styles can mesh, but the duo has spent very little time together due to a rash of injuries in the first half of the season.
Now in his third NBA season, the Kings want Fox to fully take the reigns as his teammates' go-to-voice on the court and in the locker room. (Photo: Brett Davis, USA Today Sports Images)
Finding his voice
The Kings consider Fox the head of the snake. In his third NBA season, he is growing into a much bigger role. No longer is he just one of the best players on the team, but he's also a floor general and leader.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better at being vocal, but there are spots where I pick and choose when to be really vocal,” Fox said.
Sacramento doesn’t have that one voice in the locker room or on the court. At least not yet. It often takes time for young players to figure out how to direct traffic, especially when they are surrounded by older players who have been in the league longer.
“There are times where I’m vocal and everybody is listening and then there are times where I’m kinda just leading by example,” Fox said. “Being ultra-aggressive, just being able to make plays offensively and defensively -- especially when I’m making plays defensively, I feel like that gets everybody’s energy up.”
When Fox is in attack mode, the Kings are at their best. Whether it’s him pushing the tempo or driving to the basket with reckless abandon, his elite speed opens everything for the team. On the defensive side of the ball, he has incredible instincts, and he plays the passing lanes extremely well.
He’s still a work in progress as a leader and a player, but so are most 22-year-olds. The coaching staff has worked to empower Fox and pushed him to take more ownership of the team, but this takes time.
“Use his voice more, that’s one thing we talk about being a leader is using his voice more, so he can put his overall will on this team and help us win even more,” Hines said. “Talent on the court is one thing, but his voice, his leadership is a whole other thing.”
Fox came into last season with moxie and confidence to his game. He sustained it all the way through the year as the Kings put up their best record in over a decade.
The Kings’ starting point guard admitted that the 0-5 start took the wind out of his sails early this season, and then the injuries began to pile up. The weight of the tough start and the team’s current 17-29 record isn’t easy on any of the players, but it's even more difficult for the young face of the franchise.
Fox finally is feeling like his old self on the court. With the ankle injury in the rearview mirror, he’s posting big numbers in January.
In 12 games in 2020, Fox is averaging 22.2 points, 7.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. He looks ready to take another leap forward, too.
The jump in production is great for the team, but the Kings need more. They need Fox to be forceful on both ends of the court and claim his spot as one of the NBA's best young point guards.
“Our team believes in him and they understand that he doesn’t say much, so when he does talk, he really means it,” Hines said.
Sometimes that means that Fox needs to be even more assertive and look for his own shot even more than he currently does. He can’t disappear in games, especially with the team struggling to close out tight contests.
“For me, I don’t think it’s about being selfish, I think it’s about staying aggressive,” Fox said. “While you’re aggressive, you don’t have to shoot it every time.”
When he is dynamic on both ends of the floor, his teammates feed off his energy. They need that same consistency on a nightly basis if they have any chance of finding a positive in this season.
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As a professional athlete, Fox has a tremendous platform to impact the community around him. As he was coming into the NBA, he and his mother came up with a plan to help fill a need they saw in the world.
The Fox Whole Family Foundation supports a cause near and dear to the family’s heart. Lorraine is a breast cancer survivor for over 19 years, but the battle with the disease runs deep. She lost two of her sisters to breast cancer, and early detection at age 33 helped save her life.
“Cancer has been in my family way longer than I care to have it in it, but it’s there,” Lorraine said. “I can’t control my DNA, but it’s part of me now. I appreciate now that I have this platform to tell my story and maybe it can help other people.”
The family puts on a fundraiser every year at a local bowling alley. It’s an incredible event that raises funds for a specific need in the battle against breast cancer.
“There’s a lot of women who don’t get diagnosed early because they don’t have insurance, or they don’t want to go to the doctor,” Lorraine said. “And sometimes they go, and it’s too late and they can’t afford the treatment.”
The foundation aims to help bridge the gap between what insurance covers and what it doesn’t for women with breast cancer, stepping in and helping where insurance isn’t available.
“If you get diagnosed and you don’t have the means of paying for it, now you just know you have it and you’re not getting treated for it,” Lorraine said
De’Aaron was too young to remember his mother’s battle with cancer, but that doesn’t mean it isn't a huge part of his upbringing.
“Be grateful for what you have, obviously my mother beat it, but some people don’t have the luxury of their parent beating it,” he said.
From the court to his charitable work, Fox is carving out his own niche in Sacramento. You can’t trust him to boil an egg, but he’s the Kings' best chance of turning around their fortunes and getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.