De’Aaron Fox hasn’t played a lot of basketball games in which the guard lined up across from him was more heavily hyped then he was.
On the 247Sports Composite, Fox was the No. 6 overall player and No. 2 point guard in this season’s national recruiting class. Like every recruit of his stature, Fox spent years being known as the best, because he was.
But on Friday, the only point guard ranked ahead of him in the 2016 class, UCLA sensation Lonzo Ball, was his opponent in the Sweet 16. It was the second meeting of the season for Ball and Fox, and for their teams. UCLA won the first game, with both freshman guards having solid games.
On Friday, despite not shooting well, Ball had a few great moments in an uncharacteristically slow game. Fox just had many more of them. He was the premier player in one of the premier games of the season, one that ended up an 86-75 UK win. The Wildcats will play North Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Fox’s line for the night: a career-high 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting, four assists, three rebound, one turnover. He scored the first points of the game on a jumper in the first 20 seconds, and he never slowed down. He scored more points than any other player in a game in this year’s March Madness. Ball had 10 points and four turnovers on a 4-of-10 night from the field. Fox was often the man guarding him on the other end.
Fox’s points came in every conceivable manner: dunks, layups, free throws, jumpers from all over. His dominance was most palpable when he scored nine points in the first eight minutes of the second half, right as Kentucky was building the lead that nudged it to victory. It was a defining college basketball moment.
Fox has flown somewhat under the radar this season.
That’s a stunning thing to type about a John Calipari-coached Kentucky point guard, but it’s true, relatively speaking.
His own teammate, combo guard Malik Monk, has drawn more of the spotlight just out of Lexington. Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz have generated more conversation than Fox. That’s just among freshmen who will be in the NBA within the next year and a half. This season won’t be remembered as the De’Aaron Fox Year, even though he’s probably bound in a few months for a high pick in the NBA Draft.
Any lack of national discussion about him is not Fox’s problem. He’s been great. He’s averaged better than 16 points for a team that’s now a win from the Final Four. He’s that team’s leading assists man. If Monk weren’t scoring 20 a game, we’d probably be talking a lot more about Fox. Such is the way of the world.
But how much we talk about Fox isn’t important, ultimately. NBA scouts know he’s good. Calipari knows he’s good. His teammates know he’s good.
Roy Williams and North Carolina’s coaching staff know he’s good, too. Sunday’s going to be fun.