DeAndre Ayton: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Tuesday night 7-foot-1 power forward/center DeAndre Ayton, ranked atop the class by multiple scouting services, revealed on ESPN’s SportsCenter that he will attend Arizona. In a move that surprised some, Arizona beat out Kansas (which was the first major program to actively recruit Ayton) and Kentucky for Ayton’s pledge.

Here’s what you need to know about Ayton, his path to the top of the Class of 2017, and his recruitment:

1. Ayton Is the 3rd Top 10 Prospect in the Class of 2017 to Pick a School

Deandre Ayton Cal Supreme

Arizona came on late to beat out Kansas, Kentucky for Ayton (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Since the NBA instituted its rules regarding when American-based prospects can enter the NBA Draft, with players having to be both at least 19 years of age and one year removed from high school, high-level prospects have tended to wait until the late signing period to make a decision. The big reason is for a player to evaluate the rosters of their possible school choices, making note not only of who’s leaving school early (and who may stay) but also the coaching carousel.

That wasn’t the case for Ayton, who Tuesday night became the third top 10 prospect in the Class of 2017 to make a verbal commitment. Forward Michael Porter Jr., ranked second in the class, made his verbal pledge to Washington, where his father (Michael Porter Sr.) is an assistant entering his first season on Lorenzo Romar’s staff. The elder Porter and Romar have been close for years, going back to their time playing on the same Athletes in Action team during the early 1980’s, and Romar is Porter Jr.’s godfather.

Center Mitchell Robinson, ranked sixth in the class, has made two verbal commitments. Last October Robinson made a pledge to attend Texas A&M, only to back out of that commitment during the spring. Robinson would ultimately commit to Western Kentucky, which hired Rick Stansbury as its new head coach in late-March. Stansbury arrived at WKU after a stint on Billy Kennedy’s staff at Texas A&M, where he led the way in the program’s recruitment of Robinson.

2. Ayton Is Arizona’s 2nd Commitment in the Class of 2017

Sean Miller Arizona vs. Wichita State

Sean Miller now has two commits in the 2017 class (Getty)

Ayton joins Tempe, Arizona-based guard Alex Barcello in Sean Miller’s 2017 class to date, with Barcello committing to Arizona in late-August. Ayton’s pledge means that the top two prospects in the Class of 2017 have committed to Pac-12 program, with Michael Porter Jr. headed to Washington.

When it comes to Arizona’s front court rotation in 2017-18, Ayton will be expected to serve as a key figure. Current freshman Lauri Markkanen is viewed by some as a player capable of being a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft, which would leave at least one hole to fill. Juniors Keanu Pinder and Dusan Ristic and sophomore Chance Comanche will all have eligibility remaining in 2017-18, and redshirt freshman Ray Smith is a bit of a “wild card” in the rotation.

Blessed with lottery-level talent, Smith is coming off of serious knee injuries as both a high school senior and before what was to be his freshman campaign last year. If healthy Smith has the talent to be a first-round pick in 2017, but given the medical history caution should be exercised when it comes to projecting what the Las Vegas native can do this upcoming season.

3. Eligibility & Age Limit Concerns May Have Impacted Ayton’s Recruitment

Thon Maker NBA Draft

While there’s concern that Ayton could follow the path of Thon Maker (pictured), Ayton insists that he’s headed to college (Getty)

While Ayton has been adamant throughout his recruitment that he will attend college, many elite programs still kept their distance for multiple reasons. One was the concern that Ayton could have issues in qualifying academically due to his attending Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix. Ayton, who attended Balboa City School in San Diego his first two years of high school, left that school last October to attend Hillcrest Prep and play alongside Class of 2018 phenom Marvin Bagley III. Hillcrest Prep’s lack of a national profile ultimately led to Bagley leaving in mid-November, but Ayton remained.

The academic issue at Hillcrest centered around the academic program provided by StarShine Academy, which was not certified by the NCAA. Hillcrest switched to a program (Arizona Connections) certified by the NCAA, which should help Ayton’s case should there be any questions with the NCAA Clearinghouse. In an April interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal Ayton denied there being any concern about his academics, saying “I’m NCAA eligible, so I don’t know what’s the problem.”

The other question regarding Ayton centers around his age, as he’ll be 19 year old just under a month after the 2017 NBA Draft. While he’s played his entire high school career in the United States, with Ayton being a native of the Bahamas there was the thought that he could attempt to appeal for entry into the 2017 NBA Draft as was the case with Thon Maker. But Ayton has insisted that he will play college basketball in 2017.

4. Ayton’s Overall Skill Set Has Kept Him Atop the 2017 rankings for Most of the Last 3 Years

In some recruiting classes the top spot can be rotated amongst a group of players, with that label changing hands on multiple occasions before those prospects make their college decisions. That hasn’t been the case in the Class of 2017, with Ayton’s combination of size, skill and athleticism being the biggest reasons why. While 7-foot-1 Ayton isn’t your typical big man, as he can face up and beat defenders off the dribble while also having the ability to hit 15-17 foot jump shots on a consistent basis.

Ayton’s abilities as a rebounder and shot blocker have also been evident throughout his development, beginning with the summer before his freshman year of high school at Balboa City. Ayton’s name was well-known on the grassroots circuit that summer, but it would be an exhibition in the Bahamas in August 2014 that would make him a household name for basketball fans who aren’t as dialed in when it comes to recruiting.

5. Ayton Posted a Double-Double in an Exhibition Win over North Carolina in August 2014

College basketball programs are allowed to take an overseas summer trip once every four years, and the strength of the competition can vary. In the case of those who head to the Bahamas, usually they coast to blowout victories against teams incapable of competing against top-level Division I programs. That wasn’t the case for Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels, who lost 84-83 to the Providence Storm on August 15, 2014.

Among the players on that Storm team was Ayton, who at the time was just 16 years old. In that game, which the Storm won on a three-pointer with 18 seconds remaining, Ayton accounted for 17 points and 18 rebounds against a front line that included the likes of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. North Carolina would go on to reach the Sweet 16 in 2014-15, losing to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.

“That was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in,” Ayton told Yahoo Sports last July. “I was beating guys off the dribble, I was shooting jumpers and I was grabbing rebounds over everyone. Every time I scored a basket or got a rebound, I’d look at their head coach. He was red and he was mad.”