Fultz latest in long line of local products to go high in NBA Draft

DeMatha's Markelle Fultz (pictured) is the fifth D.C.-area player to be taken No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.
DeMatha’s Markelle Fultz is the fifth D.C.-area player to be taken No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.

With his selection as the first overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2017 NBA Draft, DeMatha’s Markelle Fultz became the fifth D.C.-area player ever to be taken No. 1 overall.

Several accounts (wrongly) trumpeted the fact that Fultz would be the first local native chosen No. 1 overall since Mackin/Notre Dame star Austin Carr in 1971. But that overlooks Osbourn Park’s David Robinson in 1987.

Now it’s true that Robinson wasn’t born in the area. But he did play his high school basketball here, right in Prince William County. Truth be told, Robinson didn’t appear to be destined for stardom at that point. He wasn’t All-Met, he was “only” 6-foot-7 and he seemed headed for a career in military service or electronics rather than basketball at that point. But, he grew four or five inches at the Naval Academy, honed his skills and became one of the great centers in NBA history.

Aside from Carr, Robinson and Fultz, the area’s other No. 1 overall picks were the incomparable Elgin Baylor (Spingarn) in 1958 and Fred Hetzel (Landon) in 1965.

Baylor, with his high-flying style, was the airborne ancestor to subsequent players like Connie Hawkins, Julus Erving and Michael Jordan. Baylor quite simply helped take an earthbound game and took it into the air with his hang-time and athletic, never-before-seen drives to the hoop.

During in 13-year career in which the 6-foot-5 Hall of Famer averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds per game, Baylor might also have saved one of the league’s most popular franchises. The Lakers, who had yet to move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, were in desperate financial straits in 1958 (hence their subsequent move two years later) and needed a gate attraction to boost attendance. Then-owner Bob Short knew Baylor could be the drawing card he needed and was desperate to draft and sign him.

“If he had turned me down then, I would have been out of business,” Short told the Los Angeles Times in a 1971 interview. “The club would have gone bankrupt.”

It remains to be seen whether Fultz, an Upper Marlboro native, can be that kind of player. One thing’s first sure. The Sixers, who have missed the playoffs the last five years and have finished above .500 only once in the last dozen seasons, have nowhere to go but up.

Fultz may be able to help engineer a turnaround. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games during his lone college season at Washington, excelling on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. Over the past 10 seasons, only two other freshmen had a better scoring average in college: Kevin Durant for Texas in 2006-07, and Michael Beasley for Kansas State in 2007-08. Both Durant (Seat Pleasant) and Beasley (Cheverly) grew up in Prince George’s County – just like Fultz.

Beasley is among a much larger group – seven in all – of D.C. area products who went second overall in the draft. Beasley is probably the least known of the area’s No. 2 picks, mostly because he’s in pretty fast company.

The group includes Dave Bing (1966), who was an NBA Rookie of the Year and then the league’s scoring champion in his second year, 1967-68. He wound up being a seven-time NBA all-star and was named one of the 50 greatest players of the league’s first 50 years.

Durant, one of the league’s biggest stars – if not the biggest – was a No. 2 overall pick by the Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in 2007 after playing his one year of college basketball at Texas. Since then, he has gone on to win Rookie of the Year (2008), a Most Valuable Player Award (2014) and Olympic gold medal (2012) and an NBA Championship with his new team, the Golden State Warriors (2017). Durant won’t turn 29 until September, yet he has already been an NBA all-star eight times in his career.

Victor Oladipo – also a native of Upper Marlboro and a DeMatha product – is the league’s other current star with local roots taken with the No. 2 pick. Oladipo, who played three years at Indiana, went No. 2 overall to Orlando. He since has been traded to Oklahoma City, where he averaged 15.9 points per game.

Other local No. 2 NBA Draft picks include DeMatha’s Danny Ferry (1989), Steve Francis (1999) and the ill-fated Len Bias (1986), who died of a cocaine overdose less than 48 hours after being taken by the Boston Celtics with the second overall selection.

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