By earning the verbal commitment of Maryland phenom Markelle Fultz during the Under Armour Elite 24 in Brooklyn Friday, the Washington Huskies capped a recent recruiting run with the hottest prospect in the country, a legitimate five-star combo guard coveted by just about every elite program in the country. A few weeks back, Husky fans celebrated the surprise commitment of 2018 big Jontay Porter, but Fultz’s commitment - shown live on ESPNU nationally - has put it all over the top.
As a prospect, Fultz is generally considered to be one of the premier scorers in the country. He's quick and explosive, long, yet extremely agile and slippery as he penetrates the paint, delivering buckets from all angles. He's sure handed with the ball and a quality passer. His length, motor and bounce make him ideally suited for UW's pressure defense and emphasis on guard rebounding.
In a nutshell, Markelle Fultz is a perfect fit. But it isn't just his athleticism and skill that make him such an intriguing prospect for Washington.
Stars and accolades aside, just by virtue of him picking Washington over the likes of Kentucky, Louisville and Arizona marks him as a different kind of prospect. In choosing the Huskies, Fultz shunned the spotlight of higher profile programs in search of something deeper and more profound.
High level recruits have been catered to most of their basketball lives. Over time they become accustomed to all manner of college coaches, shoe company sycophants, and media types singing their praises. Yet Fultz presents a different face for an elite recruit. He's humble and not prone to boasting, grounded in faith and seems keen on maximizing life beyond the basketball court.
“Coach (Lorenzo) Romar and Coach Chills (Raphael Chillious) have been recruiting me for a long time,” Fultz told Dawgman's Kim Grinolds after his official visit to Washington. “I have a real good relationship with them. I talk to them about more than basketball. I talk to them about classwork, just good advice. It’s been a blessing to have a coach I can talk to about other stuff more than basketball. I don’t have a father, so it’s been good.”
Fultz told Scout.com's Brian Snow “My relationship with Coach (Lorenzo) Romar was huge. That was really my No. 1 thing, just my relationship with Coach.”
In an interview with Dawgman.com after Fultz’s commitment, trainer Keith Williams put things in perspective.
“His mom and sister did a great job in terms of his foundation,” Williams said. “He’s a great kid. I think his Mom, in the end, wanted him to go away so he could grow. Not so much going far away, but just go to grow up. And maybe so she could grow up too. They are really, really tight. Him and his Mom and sister are really, really tight. It’ll be growth for everybody, and he’ll grow even more because he’s going to have to do some things on his own without his Mom or sister - or me, for that matter.”
The more you dig into Fultz’s bio and background, coming to Washington makes a ton of sense. From a philosophical perspective he appears to be a perfect fit. Husky fans tend to take for granted the unique appeal of Lorenzo Romar, but Fultz didn’t and in Romar he’s found more than just a coach.
Credit UW Assistant Coach Raphael Chillious for discovering him early on in the process. Utilizing his East Coast connections, he was able to identify an unheralded talent playing junior varsity ball at the legendary DeMatha Catholic High School long before he hit the recruiting radar.
“He should have probably played varsity, but I think playing JV helped him become a more well-rounded player, become a better leader," said Williams, who has known Chillious for over a decade. "When given his opportunity, he jumped on it. I just think he continued to get better; every time the coaches saw him he brought something new to the equation because they had never seen him before. They didn’t know what he could do. And it continued all the way through.”
The Husky coaching staff immediately made him the top priority of their 2016 recruiting efforts.
The coaching staff’s connection with Markelle deserves the majority of the credit for ultimately sealing his commitment, but there was a lot of meat to their sales pitch.
Current freshman Dejounte Murray helped sell the virtues of the UW program to Fultz. "He became really fast friends with Dejounte (Murray)" said Williams.
Murray has already developed a reputation as the new Husky Hoops Pied Piper.
"And I think he connected to (new UW Assistant Coach) Will (Conroy) right away,” said Williams.
Reading post-visit interviews with other programs, the story was pretty similar. The relationship the coaches have with the current players was very important to Fultz and the group effort from Washington clearly resonated with him. He came away thrilled about his visit.
“I just had a great trust in them,” Fultz told Snow of his bond with the Husky coaches. “The visit didn’t change anything, it strengthened everything and I just knew it was the right place for me.”
And then there's the business side of things.
Few programs, no matter how big, rival Romar’s success developing professional talent. Washington's ever-growing roster of NBA players almost certainly played a role in allaying any development concerns. Like most facets of Washington basketball, the brotherhood is woven deeply into the fabric of the program. It certainly held appeal for Fultz, who was looking for something more than a temporary spotlight from his college experience.
So what is the impact of Markelle Fultz committing for Washington?
In Dejounte Murray and his star-studded 2015 classmates, the Husky coaching staff already knew they were building toward something special for the following season, but Fultz pushed them over the summit.
Washington badly needed another ball handler next season. Baby Boy (Murray) and David Crisp are the closest options on the roster when it comes to point guard, with Dominic Green and Donovan Dorsey the next two best options. Fultz fills a glaring need.
The Huskies had already reached across the Pacific Ocean to grab touted 6-foot-11, 260-pound New Zealand center Sam Timmons, and Fultz checked off just about every box on their remaining 2016 wish list.
Fultz is an explosive athlete, yet slippery and unpredictable, and draws like a magnet to the hoop. In Husky history terms, Brandon Roy is probably the closest comparison, but Fultz is quicker than Brandon was. If you’ve ever wondered what Isaiah Thomas would have looked like if he were 6-foot-5, you’re about to find out. Fultz and Thomas share a lot of similarities in how the get to the basket. Like IT, Fultz contorts his body in all manner of angles to get to the rack. He's nearly unstoppable when on the attack and excels at getting his own shot.
Washington has never had a tandem of pure playmakers like Fultz and Murray before.
In terms of Fultz’s effect on the rest of the Washington lineup, it isn’t hard to figure out how a player with his traits fits into their system. Andrew Andrews’s graduation leaves a big hole in UW’s starting lineup for 2016, which will now be filled by Fultz’s prodigious talents. Imagine for a moment a lineup that includes Fultz, Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss, Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson. That lineup could be the most athletic in the country if it comes to pass.
In 2015 the Huskies are expected to return to the blistering tempo of old, but the roster's versatility when Fultz arrives will definitely let Romar play however he wants. Fultz joins a backcourt rotation that includes Murray and Crisp, while Thybulle, Donovan Dorsey and Dominic Green can also unload from beyond the arc. The average height of the guards is over 6-foot-5, and there are enough shooters to keep the lane wide open for Fultz and Murray to work their magic.
As potent as the guards look, the Washington front court is just as promising. Chriss and Dickerson are the stars, but you can also add Malik Dime, Matthew Atewe, Devenir Duruisseau and Sam Timmons, which will allow Washington to turn the game into a track meet or pound away inside depending on situations and match-ups. It's a blend of size, balance and athleticism at all five positions unrivaled in the history of Husky basketball. It's the roster Romar was born to coach and gives the Huskies their best shot yet at a run to the Final Four.
What's next for Washington after Fultz?
If pretty safe to assume that Washington is done for 2016, even though they still have one scholarship left to offer. Though you can't rule out a fifth-year transfer if the right one came along, they'll likely save the final scholarship because they're going to need it for 2017.
Why 2017? The Huskies will likely face multiple NBA departures, including a scenario where Fultz is a one-and-done prospect. For such an eventuality, Washington has prioritized four key recruits: a potential superstar in Michael Porter, Jr., and three hometown players; Jaylen Nowell, Daejon Davis and Corey Kispert.
Porter, Jr. is a future top-5 NBA draft pick and brother of 2018 UW commit Jontay Porter. The Seattle trio of Nowell, Davis, and Kispert each offer elite skills as top-50 players, yet are all dramatically different.
And there are others as well. In fact, the Huskies recently offered one of the top point guard prospects in the country in Porter's best friend and teammate, Trae Young.
On the heels of Fultz’s commitment, those 2017 scholarships could go pretty quickly now. Washington is carrying a lot of momentum in the recruiting world, and some of these targeted recruits could strike while the iron is still red-hot.
For 2018, the Huskies have already earned the commitment of Porter, a highly regarded forward in his own right. Six-foot-eight Garfield power forward J'Raan Brooks recently earned a Washington scholarship offer, but it will be some time before the Huskies identify their recruiting priorities, particularly with the high versatile 6-foot-9 Porter already in the bag.
The Big Picture - if recruiting means setting the table, then the table is set at Washington for a run of success unparalleled in the history of the program. With this roster, Lorenzo Romar can quiet the doubters permanently if things play out according to his plan. To do that they've got to get through 2015, which will be no small task for such a young and inexperienced roster.
Truthfully, Washington is probably going to take some lumps during non-conference play, and the Pac-12 is going to very competitive this coming season. Early media returns pick the Huskies to finish in the bottom half of the conference, which is probably about right considering the roster turnover and overall high quality of the conference. The Husky coaching staff feels like they'll be more competitive than people think however, and you never really know with young teams. This isn't football. Young teams can win in college hoops.
Regardless of how they do, watching this talented Husky roster mature over the course of the next couple of seasons should give UW fans a serious sense of deja vu, back to the early days of Romar's tenure at Washington. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
A hearty welcome to Markelle Fultz and his family from Husky Nation. 2016 can't get here soon enough.