De’Aaron Fox stood up straight, listened carefully to every question, flashed that friendly smile and thoughtfully articulated each answer.
When he finished his pregame interview before the Kings played the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum earlier this month, a Fox Sports Southeast camerawoman turned to a newspaper reporter with a question of her own.
“How old is he?” the woman whispered.
Twenty years old.
“He’s only 20?” she gasped. “His parents must have done something right.”
People have been saying that for years, but Fox is usually flying by in a blur, rarely standing still long enough to hear the compliments. The second-year point guard might be the fastest player in the NBA. He’s orchestrating one of the most uptempo offenses – and one of the most surprising turnarounds – in the league.
“(Fox) is pushing it as fast as he can and his ability to stop on a dime is unguardable,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said.
Fox smiles again.
“I don’t know how many teams can really run with us,” he said. “Other teams run, but we’re pretty fast.”
TNT viewers across the country will get their first glimpse of the team’s new style when the Kings (10-10) host the Los Angeles Clippers (14-6) on Thursday at Golden 1 Center. They will see how far Fox has come since his rookie season, but to truly understand who he is, how his mind works and how a boy became a King, you have to go back to his upbringing in Houston.
“Sometimes people forget about the foundation,” said Don Bradley, 51, who coached Fox for several years before he reached high school. “We talk so much about who they are now that we miss who they were and where they came from. De’Aaron Fox is special because of his parents.”
His mother, Lorraine, played basketball at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, where she shot 92.8 percent at the free-throw line to set a school record. His father, Aaron, played football at Fort Hays State University.
His mom taught him calmness and patience. His dad stressed attention to detail during lengthy postgame discussions in the corner of the gym.
“Everything you see now – the way he plays, the way he thinks – it’s really a product of those two,” Bradley said.
Fox was 2 when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As he grew up, he learned about the deadly disease. He witnessed her battle. He watched her win.
“What I do is easy,” said Fox, who will hold a charity bowling event Jan. 6 at Strikes Unlimited in Rocklin to benefit the Fox Whole Family Foundation, which serves women whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer. “That fight – that’s one of the toughest fights you can go through in life. Her being able to go through that lets me know I can get through anything.”
Fox spent one season at Kentucky before the Kings selected him with the fifth pick in the 2017 NBA draft. He struggled at times during his rookie season, averaging 11.6 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from 3-point range. The Kings finished 27-55, missing the playoffs for the 12th year in a row, the longest current postseason drought in the NBA.
Fox devoted hours each day to improving his jump shot during the offseason. Just before the season began, he recorded a video for The Players’ Tribune website entitled “A Letter to Sacramento.” In the video, he touched on the city’s fight to save the Kings from relocation and the team’s desire to reward fans for their loyalty.
“I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep, but I’ll promise this,” Fox said. “You fought for us, for this team, this franchise and this city, and that’s why we’ll fight for you.”
When the season started, the Kings unleashed their new run-and-gun style and raced out to their best start in years. As of Wednesday, the Kings were second in the NBA in pace and seventh in scoring after finishing last in both categories in 2017-18.
Opposing players and coaches quickly noticed the team’s improving culture and chemistry, including basketball luminaries such as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant. Some of the praise has been directed at Fox, who is averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. He is shooting 47.1 percent overall and 38.1 percent from 3-point range, and his free-throw attempts are up from 2.7 to 5.8 per game.
“If you hand the ball over to De’Aaron Fox, he will change your franchise,” Durant said. “That is the type of player he is. ... When you have that guy at point guard, that can change your team.”
Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said: “I think Fox is special. (He) is really a terrific talent and he fits in the NBA today. He puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said Fox’s offseason work has paid off.
“He’s done a great job of taking it to the next level,” Joerger said. “Who knows where he can go or how good he can be, but he’s given himself every chance by working really hard.”
Fox has struggled a bit over the past four games as opponents have designed their defenses to slow him down. Joerger said there’s at least one way to counter that strategy.
“Just go faster,” he said.
So Fox flies by in a blur, stopping only long enough to assert his goals.
“I want to make it to the playoffs,” he said. “I want to feel the atmosphere. I want to compete for a championship.”
Bradley, who was by Fox’s side when the Kings drafted him last summer, believes that will happen. He knows who Fox is, where he came from and what he is capable of doing.
“The Sacramento Kings made a decision last year on that Thursday night in June that will have a lasting impact on the city and basketball,” Bradley said. “This young man is loyal – he believes in those who believe in him – and as a basketball player, he is so driven to succeed and make sure those around him succeed. This team will be a playoff-contending team for years to come. They are really going to enjoy the experience of watching him grow. I know I have.”