Joel Embiid watched draft with fans at XFINITY Live!, signed Sam Hinkie banner

Joel Embiid watched draft with fans at XFINITY Live!, signed Sam Hinkie banner

Joel Embiid is a man of the people.

Jojo took time away from tweeting about the Sixers' newest death squad's nickname and throwing shade at Lonzo Ball to make an appearnce at XFINITY Live! in the South Philadelphia sports complex.

They were hosting an NBA draft party.

Not only did Embiid make an appearance shortly after the Sixers selected Markelle Fultz, he also apparently signed the Sam Hinkie banner that was raised to the rafters at the lottery party last month.

XFINITY Live!'s Twitter account shared the following images and videos:

Sixers 'dug very deep' into Markelle Fultz's perceived weaknesses

Sixers 'dug very deep' into Markelle Fultz's perceived weaknesses

CAMDEN, N.J. — You don't have to do much research on Markelle Fultz to find his perceived shortcomings.

Washington finished 9-22 his only season there. Draft experts also questioned his effort, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

None of that concerned the Sixers when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night (see story).

"One of the weaknesses was, 'Does he bring it every night defensively? Did he have that killer instinct?'" Sixers head coach Brett Brown said following the pick. "I think if you take a high character person and you take an athlete, you have the foundation to coach him to be an elite defender."

There isn't much question about Fultz's offensive game. The 19-year-old guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in his only season with the Huskies. He also shot an impressive 41.3 percent from three-point range.

His skill set as a shooter and scorer seems to complement the skills of franchise centerpieces Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With his selection, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo is hoping the Sixers can start to build a winning culture.

But does Fultz's nine-win season at Washington concern him at all?

"You look at every aspect of evaluating a prospect," Colangelo said. "We've dug very deep on this and we feel that regardless of whatever the performance of the University of Washington Huskies was last year, it's not relevant to who Markelle represents, what he represents as a player, and how he is going to fit in and help us turn this program around."

Fultz took an interesting path to being the No. 1 pick. He didn't make the varsity team at famed DeMatha High School in Maryland as a sophomore (see story). A growth spurt helped bring more attention to his game.

He chose Washington because of the relationship he had developed with its coaching staff. He also thought he'd have the opportunity to play with sophomores Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. Instead, both players were surprise one-and-dones and Fultz was forced to carry the team on his shoulders.

"He wasn't always considered the best prospect, but he emerged and earned the right to be the best prospect," Colangelo said. "You're talking about a young man who goes to the University of Washington, didn't have great team success. Unfortunately, part of that may be personnel driven, part of that may be circumstantial.

"To do what he did at the level of the Pac-12 and to be able to average 23 points a game, six rebounds and six assists. You're talking, again, about great performance on the floor, a player that does so many different things and we believe someone that's going to help make his teammates better. "

Colangelo mentioned that Fultz "has the tools" to become an excellent defender. Fultz stands at 6-foot-4 with an impressive 6-foot-10 span. He also has plenty of athleticism and strength to compete defensively against NBA ones and twos.

Brown acknowledged that defense could be the biggest hole in Fultz's game, but feels like he could get the most out of Fultz on the defensive end.

"I think that down deep he understands the knock against him and I believe that when we get him with our program, he understands how we see the world here," Brown said. "It's gonna be an evolution, no doubt. But it's a willing defensive player and it's a willing athlete, a gifted athlete under a roof of a quality person. I think having those types of qualities lets you have a far better chance to mold him into the type of defensive player we need here."

Markelle Fultz's story mirrors Michael Jordan's, but new chapter awaits

Markelle Fultz's story mirrors Michael Jordan's, but new chapter awaits

CAMDEN, N.J. — The myth took flight as the man once did himself: Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team.

The truth was more complicated, more nuanced, but that stood little chance against the legend: Michael Jordan was cut? How does that happen?

Jordan did nothing to correct the record as the years passed and his accomplishments accumulated. Rather, he used this supposed snub as fuel, powering him through what is arguably the greatest career of all time (with allowances for Wilt, LeBron and a few others).

So now here comes Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, taken first by the Sixers in Thursday's NBA draft (see story).

No one can say how his story might unfold. Nor is anyone suggesting that it will wind up anything like Jordan’s.

Certainly, though, one of the early chapters reads much the same way. He too was cut from his high school team. He too rose above that. He too uses that slight, if it can even be called that, as motivation.

“I always have a chip on my shoulder, no matter what,” he told reporters Wednesday, on the eve of the draft.

So the comparison to His Airness holds up in that way, at least. Anything beyond that is a stretch, though it should be pointed out that one member of ESPN’s broadcast crew, Jay Bilas, compared Fultz to James Harden on the air Thursday night, and that another, Jalen Rose, likened him to Bradley Beal.

“I definitely see myself as a superstar, as one of the best players coming into the NBA,” Fultz told reporters Wednesday. “I’m going to have to earn it, though.”

His friends have little doubt that he will.

“Every time I see him, I feel as though he gets better, so I expect him to keep getting better,” said Reggie Gardner, once his teammate DeMatha High School, in Hyattsville, Maryland. “I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

“I’m expecting him to do big things,” said another former teammate, Ahmad Clark. “He said he’s going to win Rookie of the Year. I don’t know if he can win MVP yet, but I can see him winning it down the road in his career.”

DeMatha is one of the nation’s great programs, a school that has sent players like Adrian Dantley and Victor Oladipo to the NBA (not to mention former Sixer Jerami Grant). Fultz arrived there as a 5-foot-9 freshman five years ago and was immediately consigned to the JV team. Same thing the next year — “even though,” Clark said, “he was good enough to play varsity.”

That left an indelible impression.

“He still is trying to prove himself,” Clark said. “He still feels he has to play that certain way.”

That’s a rare thing, DeMatha coach Mike Jones said, before invoking a familiar comparison.

“You can think of Michael Jordan taking every perceived slight and using it as fuel and motivation for going after his goals,” Jones said. “I think Markelle is one of those unique individuals that does the same thing: Anything that doesn’t go the way he wants to, he doesn’t pout about it. He doesn’t sit back and try to blame it on this or that. He just says, ‘You know what? I’m going to prove you wrong.’ And I think that’s a great quality to have.”

Jones was, of course, the guy who assigned Fultz to the junior varsity. He recalled there were some older kids — “and kids in his class, too,” he added – who he regarded as superior players. 

“He clearly proved me wrong,” Jones said. “I think he’s done that and then some.”

At the time, things were touch and go with Fultz. Keith Williams, who had coached and mentored him beginning at age 7 at the Run 'n Shoot Athletic Center in Forestville, Maryland — not far from Fultz’s home in Upper Marlboro — wanted him to transfer.

“I wasn’t happy,” Williams said. “I thought he was losing time in development.”

The way Williams tells it – and the way Kent Babb wrote it recently in The Washington Post — Fultz’s mom, Ebony, cast the deciding vote. She had raised Markelle and his older sister Shauntese as a single parent. She wanted her son to get a good education.

So in the end, he stayed at DeMatha.

“Obviously,” Williams said, “it all worked out.”

“My confidence and my goals never changed, no matter what,” Fultz told reporters in New York on Thursday. “(Being cut) just made me realize that it’s … a hill I have to get over, and I just started working even harder.” 

He grew seven inches to 6-4, his current height, before his junior year, then starred on a team that went 33-4 that season, and one that went 32-5 the next. He was also the shining light of a 9-22 Huskies team in 2016-17, averaging 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds.

Rest assured that Jones “absolutely” sees the parallels to Jordan’s story, and that he’s fine with it.

“I don’t know whatever happened to that coach,” he said, “but I’m very secure in my ability to coach the game of basketball, and I will be the first one to say when I’ve made a mistake. Clearly not having Markelle on the varsity was a mistake.”

Jones has good reason to feel secure, seeing as he has won over 400 games in 15 years at DeMatha. As for Jordan’s coach all those years ago at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., it was one Clifton (Pop) Herring, profiled five years ago by Thomas Lake in Sports Illustrated.

Lake wrote that like Fultz, Jordan had yet to have his growth spurt as a sophomore; he stood just 5-10. Laney had two experienced guards on the varsity but needed a big man. Herring, as a result, kept 6-7 Leroy Smith instead of Jordan.

We all know what happened down the road. The title-winning shot at North Carolina. The six rings with the Bulls. But Jordan never forgot his days at Laney. As Lake wrote, Jordan invited Herring to the ceremony for his number retirement in 1995, and introduced him as “the first guy to ever cut me,” eliciting boos from the sellout crowd in the United Center.

Jordan went on to say that Herring also worked with him early every morning before the following season, but according to Lake added, “He knew he made a mistake! He just tried to correct it.”

Herring, who Lake wrote has since been wracked by mental illness, was unable to make it to Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction in 2009. But Smith was there, and Jordan sounded some of the same notes, saying that he wanted to make sure “the coach who actually picked Leroy over me … understood — you made a mistake, dude.”

The Sixers can only hope, then, that Markelle Fultz rises to a point where he is somewhere in the same stratosphere as Michael Jordan.

In another sense, they can hope that he rises above.