The DeMatha-NBA pipeline

On Thursday, the Philadelphia 76ers made Markelle Fultz the first pick in the NBA draft. Fultz played his high school ball at DeMatha, the long-time power house that came to national prominence under legendary coach Morgan Wooten more than 50 years ago with its victory over Lew Alcindor’s Power Memorial team .

Despite playing for DeMatha, Fultz flew a bit under the radar in local circles. That’s mainly because he did not make the varsity until his junior year.

Fultz had a big senior year, but lost out for local player of the year honors to Anthony Cowan. Cowan had a nice freshman year at Maryland, but is no one’s idea of a first round NBA pick — at least not yet.

Fultz flew under the radar of most college basketball fans during his only season in college. That’s because he played for a poor team — the University of Washington.

However, Fultz definitely was on the radar of NBA scouts. Some of them say they see a potential Russell Westbrook or James Harden. As the draft approached, few questioned that Fultz deserved to be the number one selection.

Fultz became the first DeMatha player to be picked first in the NBA draft, and the first Washington, D.C. area player since Austin Carr in 1971 to achieve that status (unless you extend the area far enough to capture David Robinson of the Manassas area). However, the Stag’s history of having players picked early in the first round should be the envy of most high-profile college programs.

According to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, Fultz is DeMatha’s fifth top-six pick in 42 years. He follows Adrian Dantley (sixth in 1976), Kenny Carr (sixth in 1977), Danny Ferry (second in 1989) and Victor Oladipo (second in 2013).

Five top-six picks is more than Michigan, Michigan State, and Louisville. It’s as many as Boston College, Clemson, Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, combined.

Four other DeMatha players have been selected in the first round during the same period. They are Charles “Hawkeye” Whitney (16th in 1980), Jerrod Mustaf (17th in 1990), Joe Forte (21st in 2001) and Jerian Grant (19th in 2015).

That makes nine first rounders in 42 years. How does that stack up against big time college programs? According to Steinberg:

There are 65 so-called “Power Five” Division I schools, schools that play in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12, or Southeastern Conference. Most of them — 36 of the 65 — produced fewer first-round picks in that span than DeMatha.

If we go all the way back to the beginning of the NBA draft in 1947, we find that Fultz is the 23rd DeMatha Stag taken. Only one high school has more — Oak Hill academy with 25. But, as USA Today says, players generally attend DeMatha for all four years, not just their final year or two for seasoning, as is often the case at Oak Hill. And Oak Hill has a much wider recruiting reach than DeMatha, most of whose stars come from the D.C. area.

DeMatha has had only two coaches in 60 years — Wooten and current coach Mike Jones who played for Wooten. (Wooten’s son Joe coaches league rival Archbishop O’Connell).

How does Jones explain DeMatha’s ability to produce stars? He says:

I think it’s a combination of things. The greatest thing is this area and the culture. This is is not a football [area], but a basketball one.

But I do believe there’s a culture at DeMatha. If you come here, you’re going to work hard, you’re going to grind it and you’re really going to put in the hours. Being a private school, we’re able to work with the players year-round and the success of the guys who came before sets the standard of the people after them.

A coach with gumption to cut a budding star from the varsity in the player’s sophomore year probably doesn’t hurt either. At most schools, the budding star would transfer. At DeMatha, it just made Fultz a stronger Stag.


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