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2017 NBA Draft

Markelle Fultz learned to ‘Trust the Process’ long before the Sixers traded up in the NBA draft

The likely No. 1 pick persevered after being cut from the varsity team in high school

When Markelle Fultz went to sleep June 16 with just six days separating him from the night of the NBA draft, one thing was certain: The Boston Celtics were on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick.

Yet, by the time he woke up the next morning, things had changed for the 6-foot-4 star point guard out of the University of Washington. Fultz’s personal trainer, Keith Williams, informed him that his team workouts weren’t over yet. He had one more scheduled with the Philadelphia 76ers, who were considering trading up from the No. 3 spot to acquire Boston’s top pick. Before the Sixers pulled the trigger, they wanted a closer look at the top projected player in this year’s draft class.

“Once my trainer told me Philly, I just got in the car …,” Fultz told reporters in the ballroom of New York City’s Grand Hyatt Hotel on the eve of the draft. “That morning, Saturday, I didn’t know they were trading … but my trainer Keith, he told me that we had to go work out for them.”

While Fultz and Williams embarked upon the 2 1/2-hour trek from the prospect’s hometown of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, star Sixers big man Joel Embiid posted a selfie to Twitter with fellow 2014 first-round pick Dario Saric in front of a locker with Fultz’s name on it. The caption of the photo simply read “Trust The Process” — Embiid’s personal creed that’s become the unofficial motto of the franchise.

To Fultz’s surprise, when he arrived in Philly, he ran through drills in front of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. “I did what I did, go play basketball,” Fultz said. “And after that, I got me a nice steak and cheese.”

The impression Fultz made on the Sixers in the workout translated into reports later that night that the teams had agreed to swap picks. By Monday, the deal was official: Philadelphia sent the No. 3 overall pick plus a conditional first-round pick in 2018 or 2019 to Boston for this year’s top selection. And, barring any last-minute change of heart, Fultz is their guy.

“His size at the position … he’s athletic, reminds me of Brandon Roy. He gets where he wants to get with the ball,” said an NBA scout who asked not to be named.

Fultz has been trusting the process for years — ever since he was cut from varsity as a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, and considered seeking an opportunity to play at another high school.

“I’ve been saying, ‘Trust the Process’ — I didn’t even know about Philly, but me, I got cut … so staying at the same high school, a big thing we used to say back home is ‘Trust the Process,’ not transferring schools,” Fultz said. “I didn’t really know about the saying ‘Trust the Process’ with Philly until probably my senior year going on to college, and when I started watching basketball I seen the tweets and all that about it. I thought I came up with it first.”

In just two years on varsity, Fultz emerged into a five-star recruit — the class of 2016’s third-ranked point guard and No. 7 overall player in the nation, according to ESPN.

Before his senior year at DeMatha, he committed to play at Washington, where he anticipated joining both a talented guard in Dejounte Murray and physically gifted power forward Marquese Chriss. “Welcome To The Family Little Bro … Now Go Enjoy Your Last High School Year And See You Next Season,” Murray tweeted at Fultz after he announced his decision. Yet after their freshman seasons, both Murray and Chriss declared for the draft.

Fultz, however, stuck with his commitment and dominated as a freshman in Seattle to the tune of 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds a game. But the Huskies went just 9-22, leading some to question his ability as both a leader and winner. The skeptics irked Murray, who took to Twitter before the draft to defend Fultz.

“What I’m trying to get across is people should respect that young man for not backing out of UW and going overseas or to any other college, he turned into a man and stayed with what he had and brought his ‘A’ game every day and not one of his college teammates will tell you he wasn’t trying to win or trying to lead them to a victory night in and night out!!!” wrote Murray, the 29th overall pick of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2016 draft.

Former UCLA forward T.J. Leaf, a first-round draft prospect, was on the winning end of the worst loss Fultz suffered in his freshman season.

“You could still tell how talented he was,” Leaf said of UCLA’s 107-66 win over Washington in February, which Fultz finished with 25 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds. “He can do so many different things, whether it’s shoot it, take it in transition. He can even rebound. He can block shots. He can do so many things. You can see why he’s going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.”

But how soon can the projected No. 1 pick help change the culture of a franchise that’s lost 301 games in the past five seasons since its last playoff appearance?

“As soon as I get there,” Fultz said without hesitation. “That’s the goal. My goal is to always come in and win. … That starts in summer league — that starts the first day I step in wherever I go. So if I’m going to Philly, as soon as I step in the facility, my mindset is winning.”

It’s all a part of the process — the one that, if you ask Fultz, began when his high school coach put him on junior varsity, not varsity, as a sophomore.

“He’s gotten better over the years. I first played against Markelle our junior year … and just to see how his game has grown,” said top-five Duke prospect Jayson Tatum. “I always thought he was good, but now people are starting to notice.”

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.