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Former UW star Markelle Fultz says year with the Huskies was ‘the best time of my life’

Markelle Fultz answers critics who labeled him ‘soft’ after missing 68 games last year with a mysterious shoulder injury. “There was really an injury. … I’ve been back to work this summer and everything is back to even better than what it was,” he says.

During a wide-ranging The Player’s Tribune interview with Washington Huskies great Isaiah Thomas, former UW star Markelle Fultz fondly remembers his one season in Seattle.

The 2017 No. 1 overall NBA draft pick also talks about a rookie season shortened by injury and his plans to fulfill the great expectations that comes with being a top draft pick.

However, Fultz didn’t go into great detail when talking about a mysterious shoulder injury that took time before it was properly diagnosed.

The 6-foot-4 point guard appeared in just 14 regular-season games with the 76ers last season while averaging 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He shot 40.5 percent from the field, 47.6 percent on free throws and was 0 for 1 on three-pointers.

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It was dramatic decline from Fultz’s freshman season at Washington in 2017-17 when he averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor, 64.9 percent at the line and 41.3 percent behind the arc.

Despite Fultz’s brilliance, UW finished 9-22 and the school fired long-time coach Lorenzo Romar after the season.

Fultz, 20, is under pressure to return to form for a Philadelphia 76ers team that could challenge for the NBA title.

The 29-year-old Thomas, the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, is also trying to make a comeback from a hip injury that shortened his 2017-18 season. Reportedly, the 5-9 Denver Nuggets point guard will not be ready when training camp starts next week.

Here’s a few highlights from the interview.

On his one season at Washington: “College by far was the best time of my life. Just being able to go there right now and not worry about paying bills and all that and just having fun. What made it that was the people I was surrounded by like you guys coming back and playing pick up with us. You hear about all the big schools, but we had like a lot of pros like you said Brandon Roy, you, Jamal (Crawford), Spencer (Hawes) you can name them all come back and hoop and actually kick it with us. It was dope. It felt like a different culture out there.”

On Romar: “Romar was big. Going so far – I live in DC – so going all the way across to Washington was like it was crazy. But it was more so he cared about off the court. He didn’t really care about on the court. You got to make sure your school work is done. You got to make sure that you’re doing this, that and a third. I felt like you could talk to him about anything. You feel like he can help you with almost anything. And then he’s a hooper too so he knows what it is. Most people don’t know, but he comes into practice and he’s going to talk trash to you about shooting and everything.”

On when he knew he could be the No. 1 pick: “Midway through the season you see the mock drafts and it’s hard not to look at them. But I was consistently the No. 1 mock draft pick. So I’m like, wow, this isn’t changing so maybe I do have a chance to actually doing something and that gave me more confidence to just don’t drop.”

On rookie season: “I think I learned more than most rookies learned just because the stuff with injuries and everything like that. But I think I had great vets who taught me the system quick. Most stories I hear is most rookies get left on their own because the vets have got their business to take care of, but with me I felt like we were all connected. When we go on the road we would go out to eat and just chat it up. I used to talk to my friends on other teams and be like yo do y’all go out to eat? And they would be like nah, you go out to eat on your own. So it was just dope. It just made you feel more special.”

On being injured last season: “It was a lot of things going on about changing shots and all this and a third, but there was an injury there. And for me, I’m a hooper. I’m like, man this ain’t going to stop me. Once I realized I really couldn’t do stuff to my full capacity, I was like there really is something so I could find out what it was. And we did that throughout the season. It took a long time, which people really didn’t understand. They thought man, he’s just being soft. But like there was really an injury. And now I got a chance to sit down and pick apart all of these doctors and we figured it out. I’ve been back to work this summer and everything is back to even better than what it was. Right now I’ve really started to just go out there and showcase my full ability, but it’s going to be a surprise. That’s why you don’t see me on social media right now posting videos of me shooting and everything because I want it to be special when I come back. I want to have people guessing, so it’s going to be good.”

On the upcoming season: “My goal is to just have a great year, really. Sixers fans are going to get somebody who is going to come in and play hard. I think I’m going to be that guy who’s going to be able to create shots for himself and his teammates. That guy at the end of the game when you need a bucket, you don’t really have to call a play. I’m going to get out there on defense. Most people don’t know I like to block shots. I’m going to be a big point guard out there. So just come in and prove myself. Just show why I belong on this stage. That’s really it. Everbody like Joel (Embid) and Ben (Simmons), we’re all out in LA just working. We talk to each other. We talk to everybody. But like, we’re really, really excited. Everybody feel like they’ve gotten better. They worked on something. And we’re excited to come back and live up to what we did last year. We know we had a high year last year so we got to live up it again.”

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