NEW YORK -- On his way to the interview room at the Barclays Center on Thursday, De'Aaron Fox crossed paths with Josh Jackson, the prospect taken one spot before him in the NBA Draft. While Jackson's afro made his Phoenix Suns hat a bit of an awkward fit, Fox was wise enough to announce beforehand that he'd like a visor because of his voluminous hair. The Sacramento Kings, of course, provided one. Jackson was jealous.
"It looks good, doesn't it?" Fox said.
Fox, who was selected with the fifth pick, planned well for the biggest night of his life. As well as the visor, he was sporting custom-made shoes with the word "LOVE" on them, which he teased at the previous day's media availability. No one who shook commissioner Adam Silver's hand on the stage had more personality, and no one had a bigger smile when describing what it was like to be drafted.
"Being up here now, emotions kind of change a little bit," Fox said. "You're sitting there anxious waiting to hear your name called, and once it's called, it's like the world lifted off your shoulders, like there's zero gravity. I feel like I'm flying out."
The way Fox was talking, you'd never know he was about to enter the place soon-to-be-former King Rudy Gay referred to as "basketball hell." Fox was one of five point guards taken in the first nine picks, and even compared to the other four -- the Philadelphia 76ers' Markelle Fultz, the Los Angeles Lakers' Lonzo Ball, the New York Knicks' Frank Ntilika and the Dallas Mavericks' Frank Ntilikina -- he has an extremely difficult task ahead of himself: bringing Sacramento back to respectability.
Last season's Kings won 32 games, and that was actually one of their better seasons in the last decade. They haven't reached the playoffs since coach Rick Adelman parted ways with the franchise in 2006, and they have had nine coaches since then. When they traded franchise player DeMarcus Cousins shortly after the All-Star Game ended in February, they were roundly mocked both for what they got in return and the sloppy way in which it was handled.
Dysfunction and ineptitude have defined the organization for years, and that will continue to be the case until Sacramento proves it should be taken seriously. Fox, however, said with a straight face that he wants to turn it into a championship team, adding that he knows the rebuilding process will be a massive change from all the winning he was used to at Kentucky.
"I know it'll take a few years," Fox said. "Nothing changes overnight. But for me it will be different. They asked me about that. But we're just trying to steer this franchise in the right direction."
Fox's fit in Sacramento is obvious. He and guard Buddy Hield, who acquired in the Cousins trade, can potentially be the Kings' version of John Wall and Bradley Beal. This is a team that has been searching for a point guard since it senselessly dumped Isaiah Thomas three years ago, and even before that it seemed like the Kings were trying a different look at that position every season. The fact that Fox knows big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere from Kentucky is just a bonus.
Fox said his defense and speed separates him from the four other highly regarded point guards in his class. Perhaps as important as all that, though, is the first thing he said he'd bring to Sacramento is leadership. Most 19-year-olds can't get away with saying something like that, but with Fox it comes off as confident, not arrogant.
"Sometimes when a team is not doing too well, they probably didn't have the leadership that they wanted," Fox said. "Especially playing the point guard position, usually that's the leader on the team, and I know I'm going to come in, the youngest guy on the team, but just try to earn everybody's respect. I have a few friends that are actually on the team already, so that'll pretty much help me. But just going in there and just being able to lead -- they're in a tough division, a tough conference, but everybody has their jobs, but I just want to come in and be ready to turn it around."
Already, if you squint, you can see the Kings making progress. After the Cousins trade, the trio of Hield, Cauley-Stein and Labissiere showed encouraging signs. The first-round pick that they received in that deal was traded for Nos. 15 and 20 on Thursday, and they came away with high-upside players Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. If you weren't predisposed to think Sacramento was a joke, then you might think of this as simply a young, exciting team. And as for that perception, well, Fox wants to do something about that.
"For me going into the NBA, I know it's going to be tough to change a team, but for me I wanted to come in and be able to affect the game right away," Fox said. "A lot of people say I could be a franchise-changer, and that's what I really want to be."