To Husky fans, it’s hard to think he’ll be remembered as anything more than a passing fancy.
Imagine, for a minute, watching a Washington men’s basketball game at the Hec Ed 10 years from now. It’s the second quarter, and suddenly the big screen cuts to Brandon Roy, who’s sitting in the third row.
The crowd goes nuts. Of course it does. It’s Brandon Roy, for crying out loud.
Now picture Isaiah Thomas on that same screen two minutes later, waving to the fans who watched him cut up the competition for three years. Same reaction, right? Has to be. Who could forget “Coooooold blooded!”?
But now picture Markelle Fultz. Visualize the response to a man who posted the greatest statistical season in the program’s history. Imagine the reaction to a player that should not only be the Huskies’ first No. 1 NBA draft pick, but whose character is lauded by everyone who knows him.
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OK, what kind of cheers do you hear? Because I’m not hearing loud ones.
Friday, Fultz announced that he would be entering the NBA draft, a declaration that registered a shock value of 0.00. The one-and-done was considered a top-three pick before the season, and after averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds, seems to have exceeded the expectations of scouts nationwide.
Perhaps one day he’ll be an All-Star. Maybe even an MVP. Fultz was the Pac-12’s leading scorer and one of the best passing guards in the country.
To Husky fans, though, it’s hard to think he’ll be remembered as anything more than a passing fancy. Here’s why.
1. His team was horrible
Actually, that description might be generous. Forget that UW’s nine wins were the fewest they’ve had since 1994. Forget that UW’s 2-16 conference record was the worst since the Huskies began playing in a conference in 1911. Low as the Huskies’ marks were on paper, they scored even worse on the eye test.
Overshadowing Fultz’s shimmer was his teammates’ shortcomings. They’d get beat down court by a 300-pound center or throw an errant pass off the backboard on what should have been a breakaway layup.
Fultz was never the cause of such shenanigans, but he never proved to be the antidote. And in a sport where great players are expected to singlehandedly elevate their teams, Markelle will forever shoulder part of the blame — fair or not.
2. He never had a signature moment
The key word here is “signature.” Fultz certainly had spectacular moments. You don’t score a combined 65 points in your first two college games, or post at least 30 points in three straight conference contests, without raising an eyebrow or dropping a jaw. But if someone were to put together a highlight reel of all-time Husky heroics, would Fultz make the cut?
The 50-foot heave that would have beaten Arizona State bounced off the front of the rim. His 26-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist performance against Washington State left him one dime short of the program’s first triple double in a loss to the Cougars.
To be clear, these examples are the furthest thing from “choke” jobs — Fultz was incredible all season. He just didn’t play in a game Husky fans will reminisce about over beers someday.
3. He didn’t show any emotion
Which is perfectly fine. In fact, I defended his stoicism in a column last month, arguing that it helps his game the same way it does Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.
But when you think of some of the truly magnetic athletes — Tiger Woods, Steph Curry, Ray Lewis, Serena Williams, etc. — their transparent passion amplified their otherworldly talent.
I don’t believe that Fultz ever gave anything but his all. I don’t doubt that he was the most competitive player on the floor in most, if not all, of the games he played. But those fist-pumping, chest-pounding, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs reactions resonate with fans. Fultz never provided them.
4. He left after one year
Again — perfectly fine. Coming back to Washington would have been sheer lunacy given the guaranteed money Fultz will receive. But unless he guides his team to a Final Four, no basketball player will earn fans’ enduring loyalty if he treats his college career as a layover. And that’s what Fultz (very wisely) did.
Hopefully none of this reads like a takedown, because Fultz doesn’t deserve that. His astonishingly efficient season surpassed any of his Husky predecessors, and his grace on and off the court never wavered.
But when it comes to his legacy at Washington, Fultz will be respected but not revered. Ten years after this nightmarish season, his time here will feel like nothing more than a dream.