After weeks of speculation, Phoenix Suns and Arizona Wildcats fans rejoiced Thursday when Deandre Ayton walked onto the stage to greet NBA commissioner Adam Silver as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
The big man is the first player in UA history to accomplish that feat.
“Having my name called to be the first pick for the Phoenix Suns was mind-blowing,” Ayton said. “Having all that confidence and leading up to that point when I saw Adam Silver came out, I was just waiting for my name, and when he called it, my mind went blank. I just did the routine everyone else was supposed to do, and I just got up there and enjoyed the moment, and I saw the reaction on my mom’s face. It was just priceless.”
The former UA forward, who will likely play center in the NBA, left his mark in Tucson, averaging 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in his lone season at Arizona.
Ayton was named Pac-12 Player and Freshman of the Year, won the Karl Malone Award (best power forward in the nation) and finished with 24 double-doubles.
He also became the first No. 1 pick to be selected by a team from the same state he played high school and college ball in. Ayton spent his final two years of his high school at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.
“This is a historic day for the Phoenix Suns franchise,” Suns’ general manager Ryan McDonough said in press release. “Deandre is a special player and we are thrilled to welcome him home to Phoenix. It is extremely rare for a player with his size, length and athleticism to be able to not only finish around the rim but also step away from the basket and make shots.
“At 7-1 and exceptionally strong, he is uniquely gifted with his hand-eye coordination and footwork. In addition, he has strong ties to this area and we can’t wait to see him in a Suns uniform.”
The big man from the Bahamas shot 61 percent from the field at Arizona.
In May, the Suns were awarded the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history after finishing with the worst record in the NBA at 21-61.
Suns fans, many of whom double as UA fans, have been salivating at the thought of Ayton joining rising star Devin Booker and last year’s lottery pick Josh Jackson, creating a core that can lift a struggling franchise to greater heights. The Suns have not made the playoffs since 2010.
Booker is one of the NBA’s best scorers, averaging 24.9 points per game last season. Ayton said before the draft that he and Booker can be “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”
“Basketball is really changing, so the two-man game is really hard to stop,” Ayton said. “Having a guard like Devin Booker, who can really score the ball, and me being a big man who can really pick-and-pop, very versatile, that’s very dangerous. The team in general is a very young and hungry team. We just have to stick together, get a great chemistry and start a winning legacy in Phoenix.”
Ayton has known Jackson since high school and expects to mesh quickly with Booker.
“On the court it’s supposed to be natural,” he said. “You respect my game, I respect yours, you work hard, I work hard and just have respect for those guys who came before you, and just really listen and dialed in to what Coach has to say.”
Ayton only worked out for the Suns during the pre-draft process, and was confident he would be their selection.
“I worked hard for this,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence because I knew I deserved this. There was stuff I went through to get to this point, and I’m just happy to be here and happy to be with the Phoenix Suns.”