In a point guard heavy NBA Draft, De'Aaron Fox has a message for any team—and amateur prognosticator out there—sleeping on his abilities.
"I feel like I’m the best player in this draft no matter what," says Fox.
Yes, better than Markelle Fultz, the player widely believed to be going first to the Celtics. And for sure better than Lonzo Ball, the player Fox out-classed in two matchups between UCLA and Kentucky last season, including one high-profile torching in the NCAA Tournament. So when the 19-year-old is boasting about his abilities it isn't just the confidence of youth—Fox has the stats and the scouting reports to back it up.
"In college, I got to the basket whenever I wanted. I felt like I created better. Defensively, I feel like that really separated me," says Fox.
We caught up with the 6'3" playmaker the day after the NBA Draft Lottery to talk about the draft process, the crazy questions he received at the combine, the influence of Coach John Calipari, where he'd like to go in the draft, and how his "guy," and infamous Kentucky fanatic, Drake, did not put out his favorite album of 2017.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Most recently, we saw you at the NBA Draft Lottery. What was that night like being in a room with all those NBA executives and your fellow draft prospects?
It was a cool night. Seeing everybody that you’ve never met before, meeting Adam Silver, it was all so surreal just knowing that at this point I’m about to be in the NBA.
You previously attended the NBA Combine. Are you starting to get a lot of those “I’ve arrived” moments?
It was more so here than at the combine just because we can kind of predict where I might land, see the teams that I’m going to work out for, so this was a big step for my career.
What was the combine experience like?
See, I didn’t do anything.
I know. But you were there to talk to people.
It was really chill. I just interviewed with teams, let them see my personality. I wasn’t really worried about anything like other people were—you know drills and testing.
Was it surreal getting to talk to guys like Phil Jackson and other executives out there?
Yeah, that was cool. Especially former players and former coaches that are now GMs or owners. So getting to talk to Phil or Magic Johnson, Peja Stojaković, who I watched [as a kid]. It was cool just being able to talk to them.
Do you get starstruck seeing them?
I don’t get starstruck, but just seeing Peja Stojaković just because I didn’t know he was on the Kings staff, I was just like, ‘Oh shit, Peja Stojaković here.’ I didn’t get starstruck for Phil or Magic just because I knew they were going to be in the room.
Did you get any crazy questions at the combine?
Because people got some crazy questions. Frank Mason got the “How would you like to die question?”
One team, I don’t know what team it was, asked me if I got those questions. I’m like, nah, I haven’t gotten those crazy questions. They just asked me, 'If there was a yellow light would you hit the gas or stop?' Now, I’m from Houston. I’m hitting the gas. And there was one, it was the same team, they had a follow-up: If a waiter brings out chips instead of fries would you tell them to send it back? With that it's potatoes, so no. But if it was something crazy different that’s not even close to being the same, I’ll ask nicely.
But when you’re getting these questions are you thinking to yourself, What the hell does this have to do with basketball?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those questions I was fine with it 'cause they really only asked it because I didn’t get the crazy questions. But if a team asked me [those weird questions], I’m like why does it matter? Don’t ask me that bullshit.
Are you one of those guys that follows the mock drafts?
But you have people that telling where you’re slotted?
Yeah. You have fans tag you in it every three seconds so you end up seeing it.
Do you care where you’re drafted?
Honestly, no. For me, I look at the fit. Not the city or the culture of the city because I can adapt to that. But I feel like it has to be a good spot for me to play.
"People bring up the head-to-head a lot. If you were to go based off the head-to-head then why wouldn’t you pick me?"
So what’s a good spot for you to play? I know you’re not going to tell me what team, but what style of play suits you?
Of course for me it’s up and down teams, playing fast paced, being able to grab a rebound and go. But in the NBA as a point guard you have to be able to run a half court set, and that’s something I’m going to have to adapt to because you can’t run every possession. But teams that have an uptempo pace and score a lot.
There have been reports out that teams may be slotting ahead of Lonzo Ball on their draft boards. Have you seen them?
I’ve seen them.
Give me an assessment of where you think you slot in this draft. Everyone has an ego, so I know everyone wants to go first. But tell me where you honestly think you slot in this draft. Are you the best player in this draft?
I feel like I’m the best player in this draft no matter what. But seeing the lottery and how things fell, I feel like I wouldn’t slot past five. And I feel like if I perform well in my workouts I could move up.
Are you one of those guys that if you fall that’s something you would use as motivation?
It’s a chip on my shoulder if I don’t go No. 1. I’mma go in and try and do what I have to do. Point guard is tough. Almost every NBA point guard is elite. And point guard, you’re not the biggest person on the court, and some bigs can get drafted on potential. At point guard, you have to be performing.
This is a point guard heavy draft, so how is your game different than the other guys and how do you stand out as a prospect compared to the other guys?
In college, I got to the basket whenever I wanted. I felt like I created better. Defensively, I feel like that really separated me. Those guys—Markelle is a great scorer, he’s able to distribute; Lonzo is a great passer; Dennis [Smith], his athleticism and being able to score is phenomenal. But I feel like defensively, that’s what sets me apart. But I can also create and I feel like I can create better than those guys and they’re all phenomenal players.
The two games you had against Lonzo in college and balled out, how much has that gotten brought up in meetings and other people bringing it up in conversations with fans?
People bring up the head-to-head a lot. If you were to go based off the head-to-head then why wouldn’t you pick me? But people don’t go off of two games. He had a hell of a season, I had a hell of a season. We’ll see where the chips fall.
What’s been the most unreal moment through this whole draft process?
Honestly for me it was declaring for the draft. Coach Cal brought me, Bam [Adebayo], Malik [Monk], and Isaiah [Briscoe] in and basically told us get out. Ya’ll are ready to go. Coach Cal is not one to, you know, if he feels his player is ready for the NBA he’s not going to hold you back. You can’t really argue with Coach Cal’s track record, so if he feels you’re ready you should be confident in yourself that you’re ready.
Are you close to a shoe deal?
Going through the process. It’s been cool just seeing all these brands you looked up to growing up and just been wearing all of them. I’m not really close to anything yet. Out of a brand you want to know how they can brand you and what you can do for them. At the end of the day, it’s what [company] you feel comfortable with and what shoe you feel comfortable playing in.
Favorite album of 2017?
If you know me, you know Logic is my favorite artist.
We usually get guys in the More Life camp or the Damn camp.
Drake’s my guy.
How many interactions did you have with Drake at Kentucky?
He couldn’t come around this year just because of the NCAA. We still talk to him. He’s still a huge fan. Me and Malik talk to him—not even every once in awhile—often. He’s cool. I didn’t tell him, but I didn’t like More Life that much, but of course he had three songs that are going to stick. Everybody out here is screaming “Free Smoke.”