2017 NBA Draft

Speedy point guard De'Aaron Fox stays high on boards as 2017 Draft nears

One-and-done Kentucky product played best in SEC, NCAA tournaments

NBA.com Staff

De’Aaron Fox liked accounting class in high school in Cypress, Texas, has a mind for business, wants to start a gaming channel, is a Kevin Garnett fan and appreciates Russell Westbrook among fellow point guards.

He listens to classical music, especially Beethoven, and a couple years ago taught himself piano with an electric keyboard at home and YouTube videos. He decided he wanted to learn an instrument and chose between drums and piano. Guitar was not an option.

“Honestly, if I was to learn how to play the guitar it would be an acoustic guitar,” Fox said. “That’s just the way I am. I’m not all loud.”

And so the biography fills in a little more: Chose uniform “0” at Kentucky because that’s the number of people he feels should be feared, played his best in 2016-17 on the biggest stage of the SEC tournament and the NCAA Tournament, tracking to the top five of the June 22 NBA Draft and being considered as high as second to the Los Angeles Lakers, and a crazy liar.

De’Aaron Fox is LOUD! He is lightning with the ball, and lightning comes with thunder, a dragster of a point guard, and dragsters growl off the starting line with the ferocity to blow out eardrums. And his postseason, especially the 39 points against Lonzo Ball, also a candidate for the Lakers at No. 2, and UCLA in the Sweet 16. So much noise.

“But let me say this,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “John Wall used his speed as a weapon. Wasn’t as good with the ball, scoring wise, at that age. De’Aaron has floaters. Not a great three-point shooter. Good. But neither was John. But John’s thing was, ‘I am getting to that rim and I’m going to dunk on you.’ This kid (Fox) didn’t use it as a weapon and my whole thing all season (was) ‘Sprint the ball for layups. Rebound it, they outlet it, try to shoot a layup.’ And when he did, it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ He doesn’t view it as a weapon. Yet. When he views it as a weapon, it’s a wrap. You look at a John Wall, the difference he makes, it’s just speed. One thing. Speed.”

Fox and Wall. That’s one comparison for the obvious reasons — both Kentucky guys, both good size for point guards, Wall at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and Fox at 6-foot-4 and 170 while just 19 years old, and, yes, both leaving tire tracks behind.

Fox and Ball. That’s another. Both one-and-done point guards at cathedrals of the college game, but projected to go in the top five of the draft, and with two head-to-head matchups in 2016-17, one December in Lexington, Ky., as part of the regular season and the other March in Memphis. The teams split, but the individual matchup went decidedly in Fox’s favor thanks to the tournament. He had 59 points compared to 24 for Ball, 13 assists against three turnovers compared to 15 and 10, and made 21 of 40 shots compared to nine of 22.

The victory was not enhanced, Fox said months later, by the potential draft implications, the possibility that some front offices could use the Sweet 16 to help decide a close call in June between top prospects. The message was not from Fox to Ball and/or NBA executives. It was from all the Wildcats to LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father, a payback for what Kentucky players said was LaVar dismissing them ahead of time.

“That it was a tune-up game,” Fox said. “Basically saying they’re going to the Final Four and Kentucky’s just like one of the first-round games basically. It was like, ‘Yeah. All right. We’re about to see.’ And I had a great game.”

So, everyone did see.

“Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about the draft,” Fox said. “It was more so what his dad was saying. That’s what gave me more fuel. He said it, and I didn’t know about it because if I saw LaVar Ball come on TV I would change the channel. But the way social media is, when I say literally anything they do at this point I would get tagged in, so I would see it. I saw that and it’s like, ‘I can’t believe he really said that.’ That gave the team more fuel. I just came out hot and they just rolled with me.”

By the time Kentucky was eliminated by North Carolina in the Elite Eight in Memphis, Fox had become one of the stars of the tournament and, barring unforeseen events, solidified a spot in at least the top half of the lottery. It wasn’t the fast break up the boards some portrayed — he was projected for the first five the entire second half of the second — but it was impressive on the biggest college stage.

Once the May 16 lottery set the order for the top of the draft, uncertainty ensued. The Celtics, or a trade partner if Boston moves No. 1 for a veteran, would almost surely take Markelle Fultz, the consensus best prospect. Then comes the Lakers with options, always a good thing, but also a tough call for Magic Johnson as a rookie head of basketball operations. Followed by the 76ers with their own difficult decision of whether to go point guard after handing the job to Ben Simmons or choose between Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum for small forward. And the Suns, who have Eric Bledsoe but could definitely be tempted by Fox’s potential, or turn to a small forward instead. The Kings, at No. 5, would find him the ideal fit for a team that needs a point guard and good chemistry. He likewise sees Sacramento as a good match.

“I feel like I can be a leader coming in because the lottery teams haven’t been that good for the past few years,” Fox said. “I feel like I can help out a team right away. Defensively, you don’t really have to worry about me too much. I can come out and lead a team defensively, pressure the ball, do what you need me to do. And offensively, I’ve been able to score. I can distribute, rebound. Just whatever they need me to do I can do. I’m not going to complain about a role. If I have to come off the bench, I will. If you want me to start and lead the team, that’s what I’m going to do. I feel like I kind of showed that this year in college, just being able to lead a young team. Coming in, I’m going to have to try to gain the respect of the veterans.”

The first-team All-SEC selection has carried himself well through it all, coming across as mature beyond his 19 years. He can be very unplugged — acoustic — that way, this teenager who professes an appreciation for accounting and Beethoven and admires the piano work of John Legend because Legend style connects with Fox’s inner chill.

“He has a buzz about him,” Calipari said. “He has a spirit about him. Yet he was like Karl Towns. Never left his room. Karl Towns never left his room and neither did this kid.”

Fox is not loud. Got it.

Except that he is.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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