By LARRY VAUGHT
When one recruiting analyst indicated Tuesday that he thought 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, might commit to Kentucky over Arizona and Kansas, UK fans got excited knowing his commitment announcement was only a few hours away.
However, it was “fool’s gold” to borrow a term from a former UK basketball coach.
As good as Ayton is, Kentucky coach John Calipari and his staff had not really recruited Ayton that hard despite his interest in UK and that he had played in Kentucky three times last season. Not sure if Calipari bought into theories that Ayton might just play professionally overseas next year despite his constant claims he will play college basketball or had a problem with Hillcrest Prep (AZ) where Ayton plays.
Ayton did surprise many by picking Arizona, not Kansas. The Jayhawks have recruited him regularly for three years.
What many might have underestimated was the role his family had in his decision. He’s from the Bahamas but his mother liked the approach Arizona coach Sean Miller took in his recruitment.
He did not start playing basketball until five years ago in the Bahamas when he talked his mother into letting him attend a basketball camp and even now those back home are “shocked” he’s turned into such a good player.
I spent a lot of time with Ayton at the McCracken County Mustang Madness in January. He was stretched out in his hotel room bed resting for a game Saturday night after playing another game Friday night.
“I have always been tall. I never had growing pains,” he told me then. “Anthony Davis is something special. To be a point guard and now have point guard skills, that’s crazy. He can put the ball on the floor, go by an opponent any time he wants. That is what I am trying to work on this year as well. I model my game after Anthony Davis, too.”
He said then he had no favorite college team and actually had not followed the NBA all that much, either.
“I am just looking at programs and seeing who came out of programs and how they did. Anthony Davis at Kentucky, Thomas Robinson was a dog at Kansas and I am still looking at Jahlil Okafor (of Duke) and how uses his body. I have not really studied John Calipari. They say he is a good coach. The relationship with me and the coach is the big thing I am looking at,” Ayton said in January.
Even then Ayton was a bit perplexed by why more big-time college coaches were not recruiting him harder then.
“I’m going to college. My mom wants me to go to college and that it’s a must. I do not want to go overseas and she does not want me to do that,” Ayton said then. “I’ am going to take risks with my career just to get to the pros a little quicker.”