A Fox will lead them

De’Aaron Fox’s inner circle believes the speedy point guard is ready to become Sacramento’s most important King

Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox talks to reporters during media day on Sept. 27.

Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox talks to reporters during media day on Sept. 27.

Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala

Foon Rhee contributed to this report.

In his third game of high school basketball, De'Aaron Fox scored 50 points. His coach, Emmanuel Olatunbosun, hoped he might get a similar performance every night. But then his star point guard did something unexpected—he passed, a lot.

“He probably could take over every game,” Olatunbosun said. “But he really was so unselfish—to the point where sometimes, you'd pull him over and be like, ‘Hey man, be selfish.'”

Olatunbosun, now Fox's manager, and agent/trainer Chris Gaston form the core of the point guard's representation, and they see a young player about to springboard into NBA super-stardom after his breakout second season.

“He's ready to lead, ready to be the man,” Olatunbosun said. “He wants to put them on the map again.”

The Kings will need their 21-year-old captain to be spectacular if the team has any hope of ending their league-worst 13-year playoff drought. Facing a stacked Western Conference and escalating expectations from restless fans, is Fox prepared to be Sacramento's most important King?

“I go out there and I play my game,” Fox told reporters at the Kings media day on Sept. 27. “I feel like every day I continue to get better.”

Rising star, rising challenge

Before last season, Fox made his commitment to Sacramento clear. In a video for the Player's Tribune, Fox called the Kings' faithful “the best fan base in the league,” then applauded the impassioned effort to keep the team in town in 2011.

“I don't want to make any promises I can't keep, but I'll promise this, you fought for us, for this team, this franchise and this city,” Fox said. “And that's why we'll fight for you.”

Fox has been fighting for years to prove he belongs among the NBA's elite.

As a young player, the Houston native lacked the standout physical gifts he now wields, but possessed an advanced grasp of basketball's intricate rhythms, said Gaston, who, like Olatunbosun, has known Fox since the eighth grade.

“I was really impressed by his IQ and his skill level for a kid that age,” Gaston said. “His feel for the game was off the charts.”

After one year at Kentucky, Fox arrived in Sacramento in 2017, just months after the messy DeMarcus Cousins trade. To change the team's culture, General Manager Vlade Divac signed veterans including Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill. But these aging players proved an awkward fit with the speedy Fox and the Kings lost 55 games.

“When you come up as a top player, go to the top school, 90% of the time, you're winning,” said Reno Dupor, Fox's best friend. “So coming in and taking all of those losses just did something to him where he's like, ‘I don't want to go through something like that ever again.'”

In his second season, Fox took a leap, averaging more than 17 points and seven assists per game—up from 11.6 points and 4.4 assists his rookie season—while also showcasing a credible three-point stroke. The Kings notched 39 wins and Fox placed third in Most Improved Player voting.

Sports Illustrated placing him 33rd on its list of top 100 NBA players. Teammates Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes also made the list, one year after no Kings were on it.

Off the court, Fox committed to the people who helped him get to the league by signing with Family First Sports Firm, which was founded by Gaston and also includes Dupor and Fox's brother Quentin. Already, Nike has given Fox his own sneaker—the Air Max 1 “Swipa,” an artfully mismatched pair of kicks, accented by math equations and colors common among the planets, a nod to Fox's interest in astronomy.

Noting Fox's quirky charisma, Olatunbosun called it “a blessing” to watch Fox grow from a teenager into a man over the last eight years.

“He's a great kid,” Olatunbosun said. “I love him like a son, like a little brother. It's bigger than basketball for us.”

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. This summer, more than a few national voices harrumphed when Fox and fellow King Marvin Bagley III withdrew from USA Basketball to focus on the upcoming season. The U.S. finished a shocking seventh in the World Cup.

Fox said he doesn't regret not going, and still wants to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 2020.

Focusing on the season is understandable. In a summer of blockbuster moves, Anthony Davis joined LeBron James on the resurgent L.A. Lakers, Russell Westbrook paired with James Harden on the Houston Rockets and superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George formed a dynamic duo on the gritty L.A. Clippers. Barring injuries, seven teams seem to be locks for the playoffs, meaning the upstart Kings will have to consistently grind out victories to snag the eighth and final spot.

Despite these challenges, Fox's team believes deeply in his potential. The phrase “the sky's the limit” recurs often when they talk about him. And during his third season in Sacramento, Fox will look to take the Kings to new heights.

“Sacramento was a perfect fit,” Gaston said. “He was able to develop at his own pace and now it's his team. He's a franchise player and he's right where he wants to be. There's no ceiling. Literally, no ceiling.”

Fox, himself, said that he worked on his playmaking during the offseason, and said that it's a realistic expectation to make the playoffs because even though other teams in the West improved, so did the Kings.

If they miss the playoffs again, he said, “it'll be a lot more disappointing than last year, put it that way.”