To many Philadelphia 76ers fans, Saturday’s trade with the Boston Celtics to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft — and the right to select Markelle Fultz, widely considered the top prospect in the draft class — represented the culmination of four years of adherence to a mantra that became the stuff of legend: “Trust the Process.” As it turns out, the Washington point guard’s been sticking to the same words this whole time, too.
Inside the walls of the Sixers’ practice facility and locker room, the phrase was reportedly repeated as the distillation of an organizational commitment to continuing to build, brick by brick, the foundation of a champion. Outside those walls, “The Process” came to refer to Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie’s overarching approach to roster-building, which prepared the 76ers to lose as many games as possible in an attempt to snag high-upside, cost-controlled young talent at the top of the draft.
Eventually, all that losing — and the way it was received by some members of the NBA-observing public — wore thin, both with league stakeholders and with 76ers ownership, resulting in Hinkie’s departure in a resignation-that-wasn’t. But when center Joel Embiid, one of the true embodiments of Hinkie’s Process and its eventual namesake, looked like a generational superstar when he finally made it to the court this season, and when the Sixers won the 2016 NBA draft lottery, and the right to draft potentially transformational LSU playmaker Ben Simmons (who, like Embiid, missed all of his rookie season due to a foot injury but is reportedly set to make his debut this fall), it started to look like Hinkie’s labors had borne fruit.
And then, the 76ers were able to turn this year’s No. 3 pick (which they got from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Philly’s No. 5 pick, the result of a summer 2015 deal in which Hinkie extracted pick-swap rights this year from a Kings team eager to dump salary) and either the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2018 first-round pick (which they got when Hinkie traded Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and a pair of European prospects who’ve yet to see the light of the NBA in a 2015 three-way deal that plucked the Lakers pick from a Phoenix Suns team desperate to get its hands on Brandon Knight) or the Kings’ 2019 first-rounder (thanks again, Vlade and Vivek!) into Boston’s No. 1 overall selection.
Suddenly, the Sixers had an uninterrupted path to Fultz, precisely the kind of big, athletic, gifted, shot-creating and shot-making guard they’ve lacked for years. Philadelphia exalted. #RTArmageddon was unleashed. The Process has provided.
To Fultz, though, the words that have animated a particularly passionate segment of the Sixers’ fan base didn’t just start with Sam Hinkie. In fact, he thought they started with him.
“Well, actually, I’ve been saying ‘Trust the Process,'” Fultz told reporters in New York at the pre-draft media session for some of the top prospects in the field. “I didn’t even know about Philly. Me, I got cut from JV. So the big thing we used to say back home was, ‘Trust the Process,’ not transferring schools.
“I didn’t know about the saying ‘Trust the Process’ with Philly until probably my senior year when I was watching basketball and seeing the tweets about it,” he continued. “I thought I came up with it at first.”
That’s right: the megawatt super-prospect likely to hear his name called before anyone else’s on Thursday night didn’t play varsity ball until after his sophomore year at iconic D.C.-area prep program DeMatha Catholic, as detailed in a recent feature by Kent Babb of The Washington Post:
Markelle was a sophomore at DeMatha when [DeMatha head coach Mike] Jones summoned him upstairs.
Varsity tryouts were finished, and Markelle seemed to like his chances. “I killed everybody,” he says now.
But when he reached Jones’s office, he was told he’d been cut. He needed more experience, and the junior varsity squad offered more opportunity.
“What did I do wrong?” Markelle would recall thinking. […]
As a ninth grader, the NBA’s future No. 1 prospect was not allowed to try out for the varsity team. A year after that, he was cut. Jones now says Markelle was talented but uncoordinated, his body not yet having grown into those long arms and big feet; he still believes Markelle would’ve been buried behind more senior players. […]
Regardless, Jones says his coaching staff argued about whether Markelle belonged on varsity, and it was Jones’s own decision to cut him.
“In hindsight, I’d say I was wrong,” Jones says, though he knows that admission will never be enough for Markelle.
Fultz decided against transferring to try to find more playing time elsewhere. Instead, he dedicated himself to using the slight as fuel, to proving Jones and anyone else who might doubt him wrong, and to establishing without question that he was worth a spot on every top team there was.
The results? A spot on the McDonald’s All-American team, MVP honors for Team USA in the 2016 FIBA Americas U-18 Championship, First-Team All-Pac 12 recognition during his lone year at Washington, multiple Third-Team All-American selections despite the Huskies finishing just 9-22 last year, and a near-consensus that he’s the top prospect in the class of 2017. Not bad for someone who just kept telling himself something that so many in the City of Brotherly Love have been telling themselves for the past four years, too.
Here’s the crazy thing: as Matt Mullin of PhillyVoice notes, given the timeline at work here — “Fultz’s sophomore year was the 2013-14 season, just after Hinkie’s arrival,” meaning “there’s no way he could’ve heard it from Sixers fans back when he was cut from varsity” — it appears we’ve got one of the all-time most-serendipitous cases of parallel thinking on our hands here. It’s almost too perfect, really.
As you might expect, a basketball-mad city that’s been starved for a top-flight point-guard prospect in recent years has shown a willingness to welcome Fultz with open arms.
“It’s been crazy, really,” Fultz said on Wednesday. “You saw Embiid tweeted. Me and Ben Simmons already had a good relationship. The fans there are blowing up Instagram, Twitter, everything. It just shows the support they have.”
Of course they’re supportive. Fultz is one of their own, after all: a Process-truster through and through. And in one more day, he can join their ranks officially.
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