CHICAGO (AP) — De'Aaron Fox considers himself highly competitive and doesn’t shy away from matching skills with anyone.
Still, there’s one player he knows he can’t beat: his mother.
Lorraine Harris-Fox played at Arkansas-Little Rock in the 1980s and holds the school record for highest free-throw percentage at .928.
“She knows what she’s talking about,” De’Aaron Fox said Friday at the NBA Combine. “The one thing she stays on me is free-throw shooting. If there’s anything she criticizes me about, it’s shooting free throws.”
Fox, a point guard who played one year at Kentucky, is considered a top-five pick in next month’s NBA draft. Most of the projected top picks decided not to attend the Combine – even to take physicals and meet with representatives from individual team – but Fox wouldn’t have missed it.
“I just wanted to be here,” he said. “I watched the combine so many years growing up. Not necessarily playing or doing drills – I knew I didn’t have to and it wouldn’t help me – but just being here and getting to know the teams could change some minds.”
Fox had a simple message for the eight teams he met with: He’s the best point guard in the draft – even though Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, projected top-two picks, play the same position.
“I feel like I’m the best,” Fox said. “If they’re drafted above me, I’m cool with it. You have to play basketball at the end of the day.”
Fox isn’t just talking smack. He has a performance from this year NCAA Tournament to back up his statement.
Kentucky played UCLA and Ball in the Sweet 16 and the 6-foot-3 Fox had a breakout performance with a career-high 39 points (on 13-for-20 shooting), four assists, three rebounds and one turnover in an 86-75 win. Ball, who is 6-6, finished with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
Even Ball’s outspoken father, LaVar, couldn’t find a way to sugarcoat that matchup. Besides, the elder Ball did his talking before the game.
“He’s the consensus No. 1 pick, he could be the No. 1 pick,” Fox said of Ball. “I’m just extremely competitive. That’s what I tell everybody. It didn’t matter if it was him or one of the other top picks. I’m competitive and I came out hot.
“We all know what was said and that just gave not just me but the entire team fuel.”
Although the order of teams picking in the draft won’t be determined until the lottery next week, Fox didn’t hesitate to address how he might fit in with a few teams that figure to be selecting high.
He met with the Philadelphia 76ers and told the team’s brass he’d be a perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two recent high picks.
“They wanted to see how I fit in with Ben and Joel,” Fox said. “I liked it. They have a lot of pieces and a point guard, they really haven’t had a point guard in a few years, so that could be the missing piece to what they need.”
He met with the Los Angeles Lakers – a group that included Hall of Famer Magic Johnson – and was impressed they asked about having a killer instinct.
“That’s me,” Fox said. “I’ve always been humble, but on the court it’s an entirely different person and Magic was saying that’s how he is. I liked to work with someone who was a great point guard like Magic.
“Magic, he was a great leader, just the way he carried himself. When he was on the court, he made everybody better. When he’s in a room, he lights up a room. That’s someone I feel like would be great to be a mentor to myself.”
Teams picking high long favored big men, but there’s little doubt that both Fox and Ball will be selected early.
Kennedy Meeks, a 6-10 senior who helped North Carolina win the national championship, was asked if big men were now overlooked with the emphasis on small ball in the NBA.
“Maybe a little bit, but I think you just go out there and showcase your talent,” he said. “You don’t worry about the politics, you don’t worry about the critics and all that. Everything will take care of itself. You can see with guys like Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Jared Sullinger. Those guys are definitely successful in the NBA.”