Markelle Fultz's NBA debut will feel like a home game to him

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Markelle Fultz will come off the bench in his first game for the 76ers.

Folks in the Washington metropolitan area are still raving over Markelle Fultz’s heroics at DeMatha Catholic High School.

Now they’ll witness his 76ers debut close to home at the Capital One Arena.

But they can’t possibly be as excited as the native of Upper Marlboro, Md., who graduated from the high school in Hyattsville only 16 months ago.

In a dream scenario, the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft begins his career back in Washington against the Wizards. ESPN will televise the season opener.

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“It’s almost the best thing that could happen to me,” said Fultz, who played last season at the University of Washington before turning pro.

“I haven’t played at home since high school,” he added. “College I never went back. Now, my first game is going to be there. The support, the love and being able to play in front of my fans back home is one of the things I always wanted to do.”

In addition to being excited, the point guard looks at this game as a great test. He’ll get to square off against all-star point guard and friend John Wall.  The two chatted every once in a while during Fultz’s lone season at Washington and the predraft process.

He can’t come close to telling you how many family members and friends will be in attendance Wednesday night. People have been buying tickets for the game once the NBA schedule was released in August.

Rookie of the year odds
Lonzo Ball, Lakers 7-2
Ben Simmons, Sixers 5-1
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers 7-1
Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks 10-1
Markelle Fultz, Sixers 12-1
Malik Monk, Hornets 14-1
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz 15-1
Jayson Tatum, Celtics 20-1
Josh Jackson, Suns 22-1
Lauri Markkanen, Bulls 30-1
Field 15-1

— SportsBettingDime.com

 

“All of my family and friends have bought tickets,” he said. “Even people I went to middle school with got tickets. I know it’s going to be a big crowd. [The game] is probably sold out. So it’s going to be a great environment.

One can assume that it would be better if he was in the starting lineup. But Fultz will be one of the first men  off the bench. He is out of starting lineup after missing three of the five preseason games with soreness in his right knee and/or right shoulder.

In the last 20 years, the only other first overall picks who didn’t in start in their NBA debuts were Anthony Bennett (Cavaliers, 2013), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors, 2006), Yao Ming (Rockets, 2002), Kwame Brown (Wizards, 2001), and Michael Olowokandi (Clippers, 1999).

“I’m absolutely fine with it,” Fultz said of starting the season as a reserve. “I’m big on whatever I can do to help the team win, that’s what I’m going to do.

“It could be me coming off the bench and making the right play that wins the game. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Fultz understands why Sixers coach Brett Brown replaced him as a starter with Jerryd Bayless. And he points out that there have been plenty of great players who came off the bench.

“I just want to take the best advantage of it every game, every opportunity that I can get,” he said.

On Wednesday, everything is going to hit him once he checks into the game. He might even get a little emotional after the announcer calls his name after scoring his first basket.

“I think the love is going to be crazy,” he said.