The Suns are expecting the 7-foot-1 wunderkind to anchor their young core, which already features budding superstar Devin Booker and promising forward Josh Jackson on the wing.
“We think Deandre has that kind of potential,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonaugh said after Ayton’s pre-draft workout with the team on June 6.
Ayton certainly believes in himself. After that audition, he announced he was only going to work out for the Suns. He viewed anything else as a waste of time.
“I know I’m going number one,” Ayton said.
He was right, and now he’s the first Arizona Wildcat to ever be selected No. 1 overall. Mike Bibby and Derrick Williams were selected with the second overall pick in 1998 and 2011, respectively.
It’s a fitting outcome for Ayton, who is seen as the most talented player in UA history. The big, but nimble, forward averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, recording a school-record 24 double-doubles in 35 games.
Ayton was the first player in a decade to be the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the same season. He was a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, too.
UA coach Sean Miller called Ayton a “once-in-a-generation” talent before he ever played in a college game.
“Because his physical ability is so unmatched and yet he brings a skillset with that and a work ethic and smart mindset that I just don’t know if you have many players ... that check the box at the level that he does in all three of those areas,” Miller said.
McDonough echoed those sentiments.
“I think this is my 16th draft in the NBA and you could probably count on one hand the number of guys with his size, athleticism, footwork, balance, touch,” he said. “It’s a unique package. The fact that he hasn’t been playing the game all that long makes it all the more impressive.”
While Ayton found little resistance on the court in college, he said his time at the UA was “rough.”
In late February, ESPN reported that FBI wiretaps have Miller offering $100,000 to former ASM employee Christian Dawkins to ensure Ayton would commit to Arizona.
Miller and Ayton have strongly denied the allegations, but the report clouded the program for the rest of Ayton’s freshman season, thrusting him into the public eye for all the wrong reasons.
“The exposure I wanted in college wasn’t the exposure I got,” Ayton told Sports Illustrated. “Me and my family did not expect that.
“Tucson was great but the outsiders made it kind of difficult. 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.”
Still, Ayton’s production never wavered, and he credited Arizona fans for helping him navigate through the adversity.
“I just think the fans really had my back. Arizona fans really had my back,” he said Wednesday during a pre-draft interview. “They really held it in for me and when they found out it was false, they really showed their appreciation.”
Ayton had a whole country behind him, too.
The big man is the first Bahamian to be selected No. 1 overall since Mychal Thompson in 1978.
Ayton has not been shy about what it means to represent his home country, and after the Suns drafted him, he opened his suit to reveal the Bahamian flag sewn inside.
“To have two Bahamians drafted number one in the NBA is quite a milestone for us,” said Mario Bowleg, the first vice president of the Bahamas Basketball Federation (via Tribune 242).
“We always felt that Bahamians had raw talent when it came down to sports, and we proved that we can compete with anybody in any sport anywhere around the world.”
While Ayton originally hails from the Bahamas, his mother resides in Phoenix and he went to high school at local Hillcrest Prep.
Ayton said before the draft that it would be “a blessing” to stay in the Valley and start his NBA career with the Suns.
Now it’s reality.
“Everybody knows us now,” he said Wednesday. “This is our second home so we just feel welcome.”