Deandre Ayton is probably the most talented player to ever suit up for the Arizona Wildcats, but his college career was marred by a first-round exit and plenty of controversy.
Everyone knows the story by now. In late February, ESPN reported that FBI wiretaps have UA head coach Sean Miller offering $100,000 to former ASM employee Christian Dawkins for Ayton’s services.
The story’s validity has been shaky at best, and Miller and Ayton have strongly denied it, but Ayton’s college career was never the same after the report broke even though his production on the court never wavered.
Anytime Ayton was interviewed, he was peppered with questions about the story. Anytime he stepped in a visiting arena, he was jeered and booed.
Ayton became a villain, and his once-in-a-generation skillset, as Miller calls it, became secondary.
“The exposure I wanted in college wasn’t the exposure I got,” Ayton told Sports Illustrated. “Me and my family did not expect that.”
Many refer to their college days as the best time of their life, but Ayton told SI that his year at Arizona was “rough.”
“Tucson was great but the outsiders made it kind of difficult,” he said. “When I saw my name was being thrown in there like that, it was crazy. Everyone’s calling your name. The media’s out to get you. You’re trending. It hurts.”
Ayton is trending for much different reasons these days.
He inked a lucrative endorsement deal to become the face of Puma basketball, and Thursday he will likely be selected No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Suns, an ideal destination since it allows him to begin his pro career near his family.
So better days are ahead for Ayton, and his tumultuous time at the UA might make him cherish them a little more.
“All the adversity to overcome really made me a better person,” he said.