Markelle Fultz is a week removed from his season-ending knee injury. The young guard is ready to attack rehab and return better than ever.
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford was giving an answer on the media teleconference Tuesday, talking about some weighty issue before the team’s then-scheduled game against the Boston Celtics when suddenly something caught his attention.
Clifford stopped and told those on the call — and in the room — exactly what he was thinking.
Markelle Fultz had just stepped in preparing to meet the media for the first time since his injury. Steve Clifford made sure everyone knew Markelle Fultz had that “D.C. scowl” on right now. The same look he gets from the point guard when Steve Clifford calls a play for Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon or Nikola Vucevic.
It was easy to feel the laughter in the room.
Fultz is a serious player, but hardly a scowler on the floor. If anything, he always seems even-tempered on the floor, ready for anything. But that scowl has come out, of course. He has the steely determination to do great things and has done them even in his short stint with the Magic.
It is a presence the Magic have certainly missed. Something Fultz will have to take to a new arena as he works away from the team for much of the next year.
"“He’s handling his injury a lot better than his coach is,” Clifford joked after giving Fultz a hard time."
But while fans and the team might be commiserating with the loss of Fultz on the floor, Fultz is laser-focused on his rehab. He is not one that dwells on the negative, he relishes the challenge.
This is something he looks forward to.
One week after his injury occurred, Fultz was not upset or frustrated with another injury that had befallen him. He was not despondent or overwhelmed with the task ahead of him.
Fultz was refreshingly upbeat. Eager and excited even.
He was ready to get back to work and do what he needed to do to get back onto the floor. Fultz, as he has made it known on his social media, live for the work.
He is “F2G” — Faithful to the Grind.
This is just more work to do and another obstacle to overcome. This is just another opportunity to embrace the grind and get to work.
"“I think everything I’ve been through in life, not just basketball in general, has prepared me for this moment,” Fultz said Tuesday. “I’ve honestly never felt better as far as everything. Every day I wake up and I don’t feel bad. I’m happy to get started the next day. A lot of people think when something like this happens to you, everything goes to a standstill. But one thing I have learned is there is so much still you can do. I think I’m finding other ways to get the best out of myself and my teammates and everyone who is around me that I care about and love.”"
The Long Journey
The journey back for Markelle Fultz will certainly be a long one.
ACL injuries are not a death sentence for a career. He is expected to be able to return to something close to full strength — just like Chuma Okeke did and Jonathan Isaac will. The only thing torn ACLs cost is time. Fultz will be going through an intense rehab process for much of the next year.
The Orlando Magic will never put a timetable on him, but it is realistic to think Fultz could be back by at least the All-Star Break next season. That gives him some goal for a return before the end of the next season — and potentially losing one-third of the new three-year, $50-million contract he signed with the Magic.
That is still a long way away though. He is still at the beginning stages.
Fultz said he is focused on his day-to-day experience. He wants to get the most out of every day and to accomplish whatever task is ahead of him.
The road ahead is daunting for sure. There will be hard days. But Fultz is not one to give in to frustration. Like going against a defense, he looks to get downhill and attack it.
"“Anybody who has been injured knows that rehab is 1000 times harder than playing basketball or doing whatever sport you are doing,” Fultz said Tuesday. “That’s what makes it fun. it makes it a challenge to come in every day.“If everything was easy, I don’t know where I would be in life. It’s fun just waking up and having a new challenge to get through the day. I think that’s what makes me the person that I am and the player I am just to have the mindset to come in and be faithful to the grind no matter if it is easy or hard. I’m just coming in to give my best effort. That’s all I can do and all I can ask for.”"
Fultz has unfortunately been through the rehab ringer before. He entered the league dealing with a lingering knee issue that cut his lone season at Washington short. He then suffered a wrist injury early in his career.
The Sixer Sense
Then, of course, thoracic outlet syndrome began to set in. The journey to figure out what was bothering his shoulder was a long one that ultimately led to a break with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Magic acquired him and gave him the space to recover and rehab. That built up plenty of trust between Fultz and the Magic’s training and medical staff.
He returned for the 2020 season, averaging 12.1 points per game and 5.1 assists per game. Putting the injury behind him, Fultz was expected to do big things this season and was off to a strong start, averaging 14.3 points per game and 6.1 assists per game entering the game when he got hurt.
Fultz said he would bet his life on the Magic’s medical staff. He has every faith they will help him achieve his goals and push him to recover and rehab.
He has also spoken to Isaac and Okeke for their advice and experience of going through the rehab process. Fultz said it will be comforting to know he has teammates that have been through the same thing he has and a medical staff that has gone through recovering players from this injury — it should be noted that high-performance direction Lindsay Winninger also helped Lindsey Vonn recover from a torn ACL.
The overarching message is that Fultz is eager and ready for the challenge.
"“I think he’s in a good place,” Clifford said Tuesday. “He has been very upbeat. He has been through a lot already in his career. I think he has handled things extremely well. I think the experinece he had with his shoulder, his knee and his wrist has given him an understanding of how hard rehab is and what lies ahead for him. I think he has a great attitude about the whole thing.”"
Markelle Fultz’s teammates are not exempt from his “D.C. scowl” it seems.
Markelle Fultz said he has continued texting and talking to players like Cole Anthony and Aaron Gordon as they try to navigate running the point for this team. He said he is sending messages with things he notices while he watches games both to players individually and to the team’s group text.
It may be from home right now, but Fultz is still engaged with his team and trying to be engaged where he can.
Something is certainly lost both on the court and off the court not having Fultz out there. Fultz would obviously prefer being on the floor. But that is not what is in the cards for him. So he is trying to make his impact elsewhere.
And keep a positive attitude to attack the task ahead of him.
"“I’m actually really good,” Fultz said Tuesday. “I’m in a great place as far as mental and mindset going into everything. I’ve actually never felt better, just in life in general. Of course, it is disappointing not being able to be out there with my teammates. That is probably what hurts the most. Just knowing how competitive I am and seeing my teammates go out and play and not being able to be out there with them. But I’m all good. I’m in the right mindset. Just trying to make the best of every day.”"
Fultz has always stayed “Faithful to the Grind.” That mindset got him back from a rare injury and helped him reclaim his career.
There was no moping when he went down last week. Just the determination to take on this latest challenge. More doubters to prove wrong and a new goal to achieve.
Magic fans have become accustomed to Fultz’s drive and determination already. The torn ACL is getting that “D.C. scowl.” And if it is like everything else, it will be something new Fultz can conquer.