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Column: The evolution of Deandre Ayton

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat

Then Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton cuts down a piece of the net after clinching the Pac-12 regular season title after the Arizona-Cal game on Saturday, March 3, 2018, in McKale Center.

On Sept. 6, 2016, Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 recruit in the country at the time, committed to play for former head coach Sean Miller and the Arizona men's basketball team.

To this day, Ayton is the highest-rated recruit to ever commit to Arizona and, even though he stayed for only one year, his impact is still felt and will continue to be felt because he managed to shine a bigger light on an already historical basketball program. 

Ayton came to Arizona after growing up in the Bahamas and then moved to the Phoenix area to play basketball and pursue a career in it moving forward. His time at Arizona can be described in one word: dominant. 

Ayton set multiple Arizona freshmen records for points and rebounding throughout the season. He was also honored at the end of the year by being named both the Pac-12 Freshman and Player of the Year, as well as also being named a First-Team All-American. 

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A now-defunct report came out during the season that Ayton was offered $100,000 by Miller to come to Arizona. That report threatened to tarnish the reputations of Ayton, Miller and the Arizona basketball program. Even though it was reported to be defunct, the shadow still remained over the team and could have possibly affected the team’s overall performance down the stretch which culminated in the Wildcats’ upset loss to Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament. 

Ayton’s next step was the draft, and he stayed in Arizona when he went No. 1 overall to the Phoenix Suns in 2018. Ayton had a bumpy first year in Phoenix because of how inconsistent he would be. His motor was also constantly being questioned. On top of it all, he was constantly being questioned about his defense as well. 

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Then, Monty Williams came to coach the Suns and Ayton steadily saw his production improve. He helped the Suns go undefeated in the bubble, and it set the stage for the most recent season he had which was a breakout one for him. 

This past season, the biggest leap Ayton took was his defense, and he’s a huge reason why the Suns were able to even get to the NBA Finals at all. His best moment came when he caught a buzzer-beating alley-oop from Jae Crowder in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers. The play has been named the “Valley-Oop.” 

Ayton’s fast development has been incredible to watch, and Chris Paul helped him along this year a lot. His continued development could eventually make him the best NBA player to come out of the University of Arizona. 


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Updated September 18, 2021