A little over five years ago, Maryland high school basketball teammates Chase Young and Markelle Fultz expressed the same vision for the future. It was ambitious: The pair set a goal to go No. 1 in their respective drafts, Young in the NFL and Fultz in the NBA.
“We just had a fire in us in high school,” said Young, a better prospect as a pass-rusher than as a basketball player at DeMatha High, “and in our sports we were both doing pretty well. The first pick is something everyone wants to be, and that was something we wanted to do. We weren’t going to stop until we got it.”
They knew they would need to push each other to make their dreams reality. Sometimes it meant battling on the court, where Fultz’s talent flashed against Young’s competitiveness. Young asked — demanded — to guard Fultz in practice. Sometimes it was a one-on-one battle before or after practice. Other times it was during a full-team workout.
Those practices revealed traits that helped Fultz achieve his goal, going No. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017. The guard has since been traded to the Orlando Magic. Young just missed the mark, being taken No. 2 by the Washington Redskins in this year’s NFL draft.
What happened during their one-on-ones depends on whom you ask.
Fultz: “It wouldn’t go too well. He would either foul or I would score.”
Young: “No, he was just soft. I used to strap him. I was lockdown. I was like a Dennis Rodman.”
DeMatha basketball coach Mike Jones: “Markelle is telling the closer version to the truth.”
Jones gets the last word, because it speaks to the players’ relationship, developed at the all-boys school in Hyattsville, Maryland, and a bond that remains strong.
“If Markelle had a great practice against Chase one day, that didn’t discourage [Young] the next day from saying, ‘I got him again.’ And vice versa. … That’s one of the things that pushed them to be as good as they are.”
Opponents at an early age
Young and Fultz knew of each other before they met. Young said they likely were opponents in youth basketball leagues. But Young started his prep career at Pallotti High in Laurel, Maryland, staying there through his sophomore football season before transferring to DeMatha and playing on the junior varsity basketball team.
“I realized I had seen him before, multiple times,” said Fultz, who was a grade older. “I was like, this dude is big as hell. Seeing the way he moved for his size was one of the first things I noticed.”
They grew close, in part because they had a lot in common.
“We had a career center and we’d go in and get help and come early,” Fultz said. “He was in there just like I was. To see someone care so much about everything and being a good person and getting good grades and treating people the right way, it reminded me of myself. It was easy to relate.”
Within a year, both had become big-time talents; Fultz knew by his senior season he’d likely be one-and-done in college. Young, who was coming off a 19-sack season as a junior, was being recruited as a defensive end by Alabama, Ohio State and a host of others. He chose the Buckeyes and then shared his goal of going No. 1 in the NFL draft.
“It’s a mentality we had being young,” Fultz said. “We didn’t know where we’d be, but we both believed, with the work ethic and talent we had, that anything is possible, so why not set it to be that?”
Fultz said seeing Young dominate in football motivated him. “He’s killing it during his season; I need to kill it in mine. It doesn’t put pressure; it’s more of a brotherly competition.”
Young followed Fultz’s freshman season at the University of Washington closely. Then a high school senior, Young studied Fultz’s highlight tapes, interviews and practice videos.
“It was somewhere I wanted to be one day, just on the football side,” Young said. “It motivated me by him doing well. It’s like, I know I’ve got to keep pushing because I’ve got to do well, too.”
Huge goals, simple plan
Chase Young and Markelle Fultz reflect on setting the goal of being the No. 1 overall pick in their respective sports while still in high school.
As Jones said, there’s a difference between saying you want to do something and having a plan to make it happen. That’s what separated Fultz and Young from others. Their plan was simple: Work hard every day.
“They really motivated each other,” said Young’s mother, Carla. “They knew their skill level and desire to be great and to keep each other accountable and keep pushing one another.
“[Young] would say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ He didn’t talk about ‘I want to.'”
Fultz worked on the details of his game — what he would do, for example, when he got into the lane. He would leave school after practice and find another gym for more work. In the summertime, Fultz would arrive early to camps where he was working in order to do extra dribbling or shooting drills. This past summer, when he was about to enter his third NBA season, Fultz showed up four hours early for a camp at DeMatha, then stayed for a couple of hours afterward.
Young developed a workmanlike attitude when he was 6 years old. His parents remembered that former star running back Herschel Walker never lifted weights. Young didn’t lift weights until high school. Instead, he did pushups, squats and agility work with a ladder or cones. He would play a card game, and, based on the card he picked, he would have to do a corresponding number of exercises. And, Young became a film junkie before he reached Ohio State.
“He worked hard from an early age,” Carla Young said. “We never had to tell him to work out or exercise. We almost had to threaten him to sit down.”
During football season in high school, Young would head to the gym after practices for 20 minutes of shooting baskets with no coaches around.
“Some guys are talented in one [sport] so they have this prima donna or this, ‘I’m Chase Young so I don’t have to do that’ attitude,'” Jones said. “He never behaved that way. He played like he had something to prove. I knew I could count on Chase.
“If he wanted to be a Division I basketball player, he could have been. I want that to be very clear. You could see his talent and size and his work ethic.”
Still there for each other
In January, Young was in Los Angeles training for the NFL draft. On Jan. 16, Fultz’s Magic were playing the Los Angeles Lakers. With Young sitting courtside, Fultz compiled a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in an upset win. Before the game, Young had challenged Fultz to score a certain number of points. Fultz was ready.
“I told him, ‘I’m about to go crazy and play good,'” Fultz said. “That’s the big thing, both of us are competitive. He would say, ‘I bet you won’t kill this game or do this.’ I’d say the same to him. Our competitive nature going against each other and who can do better is what drives us.”
Just like in those practice sessions.
“That’s the reason I like him so much, because his confidence is always high no matter what,” Fultz said. “That’s what’s pushing me to keep killing him. I try to break his confidence, but he always seems to have it.”
Fultz can also provide tips for handling sudden wealth and increased attention. He endured a rocky start to his NBA career because of a shoulder injury. He was traded midway through his second season. Fultz was working on a solid year with Orlando before the league shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. “If he goes through something, he knows to never give up,” Fultz said. “He knows I’m a resource. I’ve been through a lot. I won’t sugarcoat it or tell him what he wants to hear. He was someone who reached out to me, making sure I was OK. He was always telling me I’m good.”
The two speak almost daily, so Young knows he can count on Fultz to help if he hits a rough patch.
For now, though, Young must live with one fact: He went one spot lower than Fultz.
“He was the best player in his draft, even though he went No. 2,” Fultz said. “I got that little edge over him.”
Young’s retort: “In basketball, the best player in that draft gets picked [first]. I feel I was the best player in this year’s draft, but if a team needs a quarterback, they’re gonna pick a quarterback.”
“It was crazy. We talked about it,” Fultz said. “It was something we always believed.”