Interview: Fultz on McConnell — ‘It’s bigger than basketball’

Markelle Fultz of the Sixers is moving back to a reserve role following the trade for Jimmy Butler.

INDIANAPOLIS — Markelle Fultz has had an up-and-down start to his NBA career, being plagued by injuries and scrutiny. He was the first overall pick of the 2017 draft for a reason — he’s extremely talented at basketball. How about something positive, for a change?

The former University of Washington star has enjoyed his time playing and learning from fellow 76ers guard T.J. McConnell. In some cases, there could be a rivalry or bitterness because they are both young players fighting for minutes at the same position.

Not the case here. Not even close.

“That’s like my brother,” Fultz shared with Amico Hoops after the 76ers’ win over the Pacers on Wednesday night. “It’s bigger than basketball with him.”

T.J. McConnell of the 76ers has become a mentor for Markelle Fultz.

At the practice facility in Camden, N.J., they are both trying to make each other better players, and during games, they want one another to do well. There is a genuine bond that can’t be found every day between two talented players with extremely high competitive drives.

“Me and him love each other to death,” Fultz admitted. “We push each other in practice.

“Any time either one of us in on the floor, we’re rooting for each other more than usual.”

After averaging more than 20 minutes per game last season, McConnell has seen his minutes dwindle, and a temporary absence from the rotation. According to Fultz, McConnell’s impact stays positive on and off the floor.

“He’s a great teammate,” Fultz said. “When he’s on the court, he contributes in many ways. Even when he’s on the bench supporting his teammates, he just gives everybody energy.”