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Reviewing Deandre Ayton’s first and last season at Arizona

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Unquestionably the best freshman season in Arizona history

USC v Arizona Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats’ season has ended, so we’re going to take a look back at how each player fared during the year and what’s next for them. Today’s subject is Deandre Ayton.

Deandre Ayton

2017-18 stats

  • 20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.9 BPG, 33.5 MPG
  • 61.2 FG%, 73.3 FT%, 34.3 3PT%
  • 24 double-doubles (most in the nation)
  • Pac-12 Player of the Year
  • Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
  • First-Team AP All-American

Best games

  • @ UNLV: 28 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 12-23 FG, 1-3 3PT
  • vs. Alabama: 29 points, 18 rebounds, 1 block, 12-18 FG, 1-2 3PT
  • vs. Arizona State: 23 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 9-14 FG
  • @ Washington State: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 11/12 FG
  • @ Arizona State: 25 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 8/12 FG
  • @ Oregon: 28 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks, 11/15 FG
  • vs. California: 26 points, 20 rebounds, 1 steal, 9/12 FG, 1/1 3PT
  • Pac-12 Tournament semifinal vs. UCLA: 32 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 13/16 FG, 1/1 3PT
  • Pac-12 Tournament final vs. USC: 32 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 14/20 FG

2017-18 in review

Arizona basketball is a storied program that has seen a whole lot of talent come through Tucson through the years. That Deandre Ayton was the most highly-regarded recruit to ever come to Arizona put some awfully lofty expectations on the big man entering his freshman season.

Those expectations included a trip to the Final Four and possibly winning the National Championship. In the preseason, Arizona was a popular pick and that was mostly due to Ayton.

The Wildcats failed to meet the high expectations that were set for them as a team, but if you watched Ayton throughout the season, you saw what all the hype was about. You saw a dominant force, a freak athlete, a 7-foot-1, 260 pound behemoth with a jumper. You saw, perhaps, the greatest basketball player to don the red and blue.

Ayton began his Wildcat career with five straight double-doubles, something the Wildcat faithful would become accustomed to seeing. Even on Arizona’s nightmarish Bahamas trip which saw them lose three games in three nights, Ayton still feasted on opponents, averaging 22 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 62 percent during Battle 4 Atlantis.

To start the season, Ayton wanted to show NBA scouts that he could step out and hit the 3. In today’s NBA, you have to be able to shoot the ball to be relevant and Ayton was dead-set on showing how versatile his offensive game was. He attempted 21 3-pointers in the first 10 games of the season, making only six. He was forcing jump shots, probably his only offensive mistake during the season. He has a great jumper, considering his size and frame, but he was leaving potential points on the table with his decision to not try and dominate inside. That mentality would slowly change as Ayton would only attempt 14 more 3-pointers in the season.

Ayton blocked a ton of shots this season but still, his low post defense left something to be desired. Opposing big men scored with relative ease against Arizona’s pair of 7-footers. While Ayton was a fantastic shot-blocker and premier rebounder, he often tried to block every shot instead of showing discipline and taking a team defense approach.

Ayton arguably took too many jumpers and allowed too many points at the other end. Any other negative you could find about Ayton’s lone season as a Wildcat would be a reach.

It didn’t take long for him to put the Pac-12 on notice that he had arrived. Ayton was unstoppable to begin Pac-12 play. In the first six conference games, Ayton piled up 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 68 percent from the floor and making his only attempt from 3-point land.

His athleticism and skill were a problem for the rest of the conference and he would lead the Wildcats to their second straight Pac-12 regular season title. Ayton winded up averaging 20.2 points, 11.4 boards, 2.3 blocks and 62/44/77 shooting splits in 18 conference games. This resulted in Ayton becoming both the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year — the first player to accomplish that feat since Kevin Love in 2008.

In late February, as everyone knows, Ayton’s name was linked to the Sean Miller wiretap controversy reported by ESPN. Questions still remain regarding the validity to the report as people have pointed out that the timeline of the story and Ayton’s involvement doesn’t add up. Ayton’s eligibility was never brought into question and he didn’t miss any time on the floor.

While obviously maintaining innocence, Ayton had to hear it from opposing fans and the media. This seemed to take Ayton to another level, though. While his dominance was established from the get-go, now Ayton was angry. It became clear that opponents wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He had a six-game stretch that saw him put up 23 and 14 and culminated in back-to-back career high games in the Pac-12 Tournament, scorching both LA schools for 32 points apiece and leading the Wildcats to a second consecutive Pac-12 Tournament Championship.

The Wildcats found themselves once again a popular choice to make it to the Final Four thanks to Ayton becoming the best player in the country and a finalist for both the Naismith and Wooden Awards.

But Arizona’s season came to a sudden and startling end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a blowout loss to Buffalo. Ayton wasn’t at his best at either end of the floor and frankly, no Wildcat was. It was an unfortunate end to a one-year career no one will soon forget.

What’s next?

Whatever is next for Ayton will be coming in the NBA. He has formally declared for the draft as everyone expected all along. Ayton figures to be one of the top picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, perhaps the first number one pick in Arizona history. Things like “best college big man since Shaq” and “modern-day Patrick Ewing” are being thrown around so the sky is the limit for Ayton

As for what’s next at Arizona – who knows? Ayton leaves the largest void the Wildcats have ever had to fill and no prospects on the horizon.

This next season could be rough in Tucson. The starting five is gone, including the freakish Pac-12 Player of the Year. As has been talked about before, there are no incoming recruits currently signed on for next season.

And Tucson may never see a player as talented as Ayton ever again. If they do, it won’t be for a long, long time.

Quotable

“Physically, he’s like Superman. But he’s also very skilled. If you have a guy like him that’s physically gifted, plus you have the skill level and the intelligence, he’s going to be a player that’s going to go down as one of the great ones to play our game. That’s how I see him.” – Sean Miller on Deandre Ayton