Three days into quarantine, Markelle Fultz pulled into an Orlando-area Walmart to get a basketball hoop.
“Just cause I was in a crazy rhythm at the end of the season,” Fultz said on Monday during a ZOOM conference with members of the media. “My biggest thing was I didn’t want to lose that rhythm.”
Too nervous to enter a store during the COVID-19 pandemic, he ordered the hoop online and picked it up. Then came the difficult part: assembling it.
“I never knew how hard it was to put a basketball hoop together,” he said. “But I figured it out.”
Once he did, he said he felt like a kid again.
“It turned into me waking up every morning, going outside and just getting up shots in the Orlando heat, which can be challenging,” he said.
It’s wasn’t quite the air-conditioned, state-of-the-art facilities at Amway Center, but it was enough for Fultz to work on his shot, in addition to his ball-handling and defensive slides. The hoop in front of the house is where many NBA dreams begin, and for Fultz, it was purchased and assembled in hopes that his successful comeback season would continue.
“I didn’t know whether the season was going to start or not,” he said, “but I always wanted to be ready.”
He did some weight-lifting in his garage. He ran two to four miles a day. He rode his bike.
He got shots up...initially hoisting them freely, but ultimately concentrating on in-game scenarios.
“I couldn’t tell you an exact number because sometimes I’d be out there for three hours, sometimes I’d be out there for an hour, sometimes I would be out there even longer,” he said.
“Just making sure I give myself the best chance I have going into this bubble and going into training camp, to not have an injury and put myself and my team in the best [opportunity] to be successful.”
Fultz, over his last five games before the league’s hiatus on March 11, was averaging 17.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, while shooting 59.6 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three (albeit on just seven attempts). Fultz believes he is well-equipped to return to form after a lengthy layoff because he had experience doing so while playing in just 34 of a possible 164 games over the first two seasons of his career.
This season he made significant progress, playing in 64 of 65 games with per-36 averages of 15.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
“I feel like I was getting in such a great rhythm towards the end of the season,” he said. “During the whole season, I just felt like I was steady, getting better and better, as well as our team. I just think I was in a crazy rhythm. I had a routine down that I was doing every day. I stuck to that routine. My mindset going back into it just picked back up to where I know I’m going to have to ramp it up slowly.
“But that’s something I’ve been doing ever since I got into the league once I got my injury, is learning how to manage not playing and then managing myself back into it. I feel like I kind of got an advantage going back into this bubble because I’ve sat out for a long time and I’ve had to learn how to stay active in certain ways to make sure I can sharpen up the tools that I need to sharpen.”
Fultz said, in addition to working out with the resources available to him, he has used the time away from the game to spend time with family, and also jotted down some notes while watching “The Last Dance” and plans to use aspects of Michael Jordan’s drive and mental toughness both on and off the court.
“The last couple of months have been kind of crazy, something I’ve never experienced in my life. I’m pretty sure none of us have,” he said. “But it’s also been a great learning experience and also a chance to reflect on everything going on in the world, and also in my life.”
Fultz is scheduled to soon be back on the court with his Magic teammates, whom he has communicated with only in digital form over the last three-plus months.
“We have a group chat that we text in,” he said. “We joke all day, we talk all day. I think our organization has done a great job, we’ve done plenty of ZOOM calls, just trying to do the best they can with giving us information and also just trying to see what we need during these times.”
What Fultz needed most was a basketball hoop. He got that himself and now has a court available to him at all times.
“That’s like me meditating,” he said. “Just going out there and enjoying myself on the court.”
Coming soon: Fultz on the Disney bubble and the NBA’s message regarding social injustice