There is only one man who has coached Markelle Fultz and Isaiah Thomas, and he is convinced together they would make a dynamic backcourt for the Boston Celtics.
While the organization’s short-term thoughts are clouded by the team’s suddenly competitive series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the long-term future could be dazzling should the Celtics decide to take Fultz with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Lorenzo Romar is a former NBA player, longtime University of Washington coach, and now an assistant at Arizona. He told the Globe that 1) Fultz is the best player in the draft and 2) he could play effectively with Thomas.
Fultz signed with Washington out of famed DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., and he sparkled in his lone season with the Huskies. The 6-foot-4-inch guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists before declaring for the draft. Romar said Fultz is a potential superstar.
“Whatever I tell you here, I’m not being biased, I’m being objective,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of positive talk when you talk about Markelle. Markelle can literally play with anybody because he’s skilled enough where him and Isaiah, him and Avery Bradley, him and Marcus Smart, whoever is in the game, Markelle is skilled enough and versatile enough to adapt to whomever he’s playing with.”
There is a cloud of mystery over Fultz because he played for a struggling Pac-12 team (9-22) that did not make many national television appearances. Fultz didn’t play in Washington’s loss to USC in the Pac-12 tournament because of a knee injury.
What’s more, Fultz hasn’t played in an organized game since Feb. 18, when he scored 26 points in a loss to Arizona. Still, Romar expects him to be a polished pro because of his work ethic.
“Ever since I saw him that first time, he’s grown [as a player] every two or three months that I’ve seen him,” the coach said. “Each time he took a giant leap and that continued in the year he was with us. He just continued to get better at everything.”
When asked if Fultz is the unquestioned No. 1 pick, Romar said: “In my opinion. You’re just talking about the most versatile player, best player, a player that can impact you. He doesn’t have many flaws.”
Romar, who was fired after the season after 15 years with the Huskies, described his reaction when he first watched Fultz play as a high schooler.
“The first thing I thought was Xavier and Elon and some other schools like that were recruiting him and he was playing on a side court, the game was so easy for him. It was so easy,” Romar said. “And I just thought, ‘Wait a minute, he’s going to be a super, superstar.’ You could just see he was long-limbed, athletic. He was fun to watch.”
Thomas said last week that he’s played with Fultz during pick-up games and there’s no question they could co-exist.
“Isaiah is not a one-dimensional point guard where he’s not that good of a shooter or scorer and he just has to have the ball in his hands or he’s not effective,” Romar said. “He’s effective in a lot of different ways, just like Markelle is.”
Romar said Thomas and Fultz share a common passion for the game and work ethic. Thomas, who played three seasons (2008-11) with the Huskies, was considered a low-level Division 1 player because of his size but ended up Washington’s eighth all-time leading scorer. At DeMatha, Fultz was cut from the varsity team as a sophomore, but became a McDonald’s All-American.
“Neither one was a sure bet for the NBA when they came into high school,” Romar said. “People watch Markelle as a freshman or sophomore, I don’t think anybody was going to say, ‘No doubt, he’s a McDonald’s All-American.’ Both of those guys have fought their way to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, so neither one has a sense of entitlement and it’s very rare to find that these days.
“There’s a certain amount of humility, but yet a huge chip on both of their shoulders. I haven’t been around anyone with the passion and love for the game that those two have. I think those guys would play for free.”
Romar said both are driven by the passion to be great. He had a conversation with Thomas when he was considering leaving for the NBA Draft following his junior season.
“I said, ‘Isaiah, you know if you come back, you will be the all-time leading steals, assists, and scoring leader in this school’s history,’ ” Romar said. “He said, ‘Coach, I know, but all my years in the backyard practicing, I never practiced with that as the goal. My goal was to play in the NBA and I think I can get there.’
“It’s a Catch-22. When you’re trying to be the best at this game, [Fultz and Thomas] are not just trying to make it, they’re trying to be the best, it’s hard to focus on a whole lot of other things.
“They have one goal in mind [to be great] and they are putting their efforts into that.”
When asked if he sees a lot of Thomas in Fultz, Romar said: “No doubt.”