When Deandre Ayton first saw ESPN’s report that alleged Sean Miller discussed paying $100,000 for him, Ayton laughed.
“Because I had just seen other schools on it and other guys’ names on it. And I was like ‘wow,’” he said, likely referring to the Yahoo! reports that came out that same day.
“And then I saw my name and I was like, ‘this is crazy.’ Then I just called my mom and told her what was on it and she was freaking out. I was like ‘we’ll get to the bottom of this.’”
Shortly after ESPN’s report surfaced, Ayton and his family released a statement strongly denying any wrongdoing.
Then the University of Arizona’s outside counsel backed them up by saying Ayton has “abided by all applicable rules and regulations” and that there is “not a shred” of evidence to suggest otherwise.
“That’s foolishness,” Ayton said of the ESPN report. “I just keep my head on my shoulders and do what I gotta do.”
While the veracity of the ESPN report is (still) in question, it immediately turned Ayton into a villain across the college basketball world.
ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said on College GameDay that Ayton should never play in a college game again.
But the ESPN report broke on a Friday and Ayton played the very next day against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.
UO fans predictably had it out for him. They chanted “100,000” every time Ayton stepped to the free throw line, and booed him every other time he touched the ball.
But the joke was on them because Ayton enjoys the spotlight.
“All eyes were on me and I’m going to put on a show,” the Arizona big man said. “That was it. I’m an entertainer. I like to entertain. That’s what I did.”
Indeed. Amid the controversy, Ayton had an incredible game, posting 28 points and 18 rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting in an overtime loss.
“I tried to prove a point, but we didn’t get the win,” he said. “We should have.”
As Ayton’s unprecedented collegiate career winds down — he hopes to win a national championship when all is said and done — he will continue to be a polarizing player.
On one hand, he is a once-in-a-generation talent that people can’t help but marvel at. Ayton will probably be the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft.
On the other hand, Ayton’s name will forever be attached to a report — whether it’s accurate or not — that ties him to violating the so-called “sanctity” of college basketball.
Some players might crumble under that scrutiny, but it doesn’t faze the 7-foot-1 giant.
“(The spotlight has) been on me all my life,” Ayton said. “It’s just a little more attention.”