Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant happy to see fellow DeMatha alum Markelle Fultz taking off with Orlando Magic
This may come as a surprise, but Jerami Grant actually used to coach Markelle Fultz.
It was less than a decade ago when both were teens in the Hyattsville, Md. area. Grant had recently wrapped up a successful junior season at national high school basketball powerhouse DeMatha Catholic. Fultz was in junior high school and an incoming freshman at DeMatha the following year, with ambitions of one day making the grade on the ball team.
Varsity players are required to coach young hopefuls at the DeMatha Basketball Camp, which services, boys and girls ages 7 to 16, at least once a week. It instills a sense of community and giving back to the school that also produced the likes of Adrian Dantley, Sidney Lowe, Danny Ferry and two-time NBA All-Star current Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. It was at the DeMatha Summer Basketball Camp where Grant and Fultz met and instantly clicked.
“He was my young guy growing up,” Grant, now in his sixth in as a pro and Denver’s prized trade acquisition this past offseason, told Nuggets.com. “We were close. I got close with him and his mom, his family. So yeah, definitely close with him.”
A relentless work ethic immediately bonded them. Grant was only required to serve one week at the basketball camp, but he wound up spending the entire summer following his junior and senior years, helping mold future Stags. Fultz was always there, soaking it all in and trying to grow his game. Fultz was a frequent visitor to the Grants’ house. He enjoyed how comfortable they made him and his mother, Ebony, feel whenever they were guests.
Fultz was also inspired by the Grant family history.
Jerami’s father Harvey played in the NBA for more than 10 years. Harvey’s identical twin brother Horace, is a four-time NBA champion, earning with the Bulls and Lakers with whom he played alongside Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
“He's definitely like a big brother to me,” Fultz said, referring to Jerami, prior to Denver’s 113-104 comeback win against Orlando Wednesday. “I used to go to his house a lot because his younger brother used to play on my team. So, I've been around him and his family for quite a while now.”
Fultz is in the midst of a breakout campaign for the Magic, securing the starting point guard role and averaging 11.7 points, 4.2 assists and shooting 47.1 percent.
“It makes me feel great,” Grant said of Fultz’s performances this season. “I had a couple of workouts this summer just to see where he was at. Talking to him a little bit and I told him to keep his head [up] and show everyone what he can do. It's great he's showing what he can do. Everyone is starting to see it.”
It’s been a difficult journey for the 21-year-old to reach this point. Picked No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz was compared to James Harden, D’Angelo Russell and Damian Lillard coming out of Washington. However, Fultz would pick up a shoulder injury that would limit his effectiveness and appearances during his two years in Philadelphia.
Grant admits it was a delicate situation for Fultz and stressed he felt it was more important to communicate with the guard face-to-face then communicating over the phone. When the two did see each other, the message from Grant to Fultz was clear.
“Don't worry about it. Everything will come back full circle,” Grant said.
It was a message Fultz appreciated.
“He's definitely someone I reach out to for advice,” Fultz said. “Someone to hang out with and joke with.”
The support from Grant and other DeMatha alumni was a boost for Fultz, DeMatha head coach Mike Jones said.
“Our school’s culture is a brotherhood,” Jones said. “The guys who came before Markelle, especially the ones who have achieved the level of making the NBA, have always looked out for him. [They’ve] always supported him and offered words of encouragement because they know not many people can know what it’s like to be on that level.”
Jones added, “Jerami is definitely one of the guys who has done that. That’s his little brother. That’s the guy who he watched grow up and he’s so proud of.”
Fultz was given a fresh start when he was traded to Orlando on Feb. 7. He has shown glimpses this season of the potential that made him a coveted NBA prospect three years ago.
In the game against the Nuggets Wednesday, Fultz had two jaw-dropping buckets within a span of 30 seconds in the fourth quarter. On the first play, he received the ball at the top of the key and used his speed and strength to spin, shield the ball and hit a jumper on his defender. Seconds later, he grabbed a rebound off a missed layup and raced full court, beating three Nuggets to score. In a recent win against the Wizards, Fultz poured in 20 points, six assists and two steals in a 127-120 result.
“It was just about him getting healthy,” Jones said. “The trade created a tremendous opportunity for him, and he’s taken full advantage of it.”
Jones and Fultz are also happy for the situation Grant is in with the Nuggets. Denver’s reserve forward is currently averaging 9.8 and shooting 38.4 percent from downtown. Jones understands why a contending team would covet Grant considering the forward’s intelligence and unselfishness.
“I tell people all the time Jerami sacrificed a lot for our team,” Jones said. “He always tried to fit the team concept…The fact that he’s played with some of the NBA’s biggest superstars and he’s never really had to adjust [shows that]. He’s always been able to do that from a very young age.”
Fultz believes that mentality comes from where both men went to high school.
“Dreams come true and seeing someone who used to coach you and used to be a mentor to me growing up to playing in the NBA with him, it just shows the powerhouse that we were able to come from,” Fultz said. “It also shows to keep building up the next [young] guy [from DeMatha].”