At Coach Mike Jones’s command, the rest of the DeMatha boys’ basketball team surrounded senior Markelle Fultz and enveloped him in a group bear hug, effectively cutting off whatever sentence their McDonald’s all-American was about to finish during a television interview.
For much of Monday night, Fultz had set up his teammates for shot after shot as the fourth-ranked Stags cruised to a 101-77 win over Capitol Christian at McNamara and repeated as the Maryland Private Schools tournament champions. Now it was time to reciprocate the love.
“He put us on his back all year,” senior Reggie Gardner said. “We played off of him, stayed very humble and he led us.”
In his final high school game in the Washington area, Fultz showed again why he transformed from a junior varsity player as a sophomore into one of the country’s top prospects over the past two seasons. The University of Washington recruit finished with 20 points and 11 assists, including 10 in the first half when the Stags quickly turned the game into a rout with a barrage of three-pointers.
Fultz hit four of them and spent much of the second half on the bench savoring one of his last games in a DeMatha uniform. He will be remembered for his gym-rat tendencies, senior Kellon Taylor said, and the late nights when he would “sometimes drag me along with him and that made me a better player.”
But when the final buzzer sounded Monday and the Stags moved their focus to this weekend’s season-ending Alhambra Catholic Invitational tournament in Cumberland, Md., Fultz made sure the contributions of those around him didn’t go unnoticed.
“I think my teammates help me, staying on me and saying I suck,” Fultz said with a laugh. “They come at me in practice just like I come at them in practice. It’s always good to have somebody push you in practice and not treat you like you’re the best player in the area.”
The Stags’ motivation came from dropping last month’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game to No. 2 St. John’s, a setback that “really opened our eyes and showed us all the wrong we were doing,” Taylor said. “We’re playing with a lot more intensity.”
But they’d also like to send their star out on a high note.
“He’s pretty much accomplished, for an individual, anything you could posssibly accomplish in high school,” Jones said. “To be able to say that about anybody, you’ve got to be very proud of him.”