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Arizona Wildcats in the NBA: Stanley Johnson gets first start with Lakers, Brandon Williams makes debut, Deandre Ayton lands new (shoe) deal

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-stanley-johnson-lakers-brandon-williams-blazers-deandre-ayton-suns Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

With Arizona’s men’s and women’s teams on an extended break between games, the best way for Wildcat fans to get their basketball fix is to turn to the NBA. And thankfully, quite a few ex-UA players have made headlines of late.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories involving former Arizona players:

Stanley Johnson standing out with Lakers

Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 24, and so far he’s made the most of that opportunity to not only get back into the league but to play for his hometown team. The 6-foot-6 forward had 7 points in 27 minutes in his debut, during a Christmas night home loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and that effort earned him a start on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Johnson responded by contributing 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in 32 minutes in Los Angeles’ 132-123 road win over the Houston Rockets, ending a 5-game skid.

It was the 78th career start for Johnson, who is with his fourth NBA team since the Detroit Pistons drafted him eighth overall in 2015. His 10-day contract, one of dozens of hardship deals given out in the past month, expires Sunday, but the Lakers could sign him to another if they like what he’s doing.

Brandon Williams gets his in garbage time

Williams signed a 10-day contract with the Portland TrailBlazers on Christmas, making his NBA debut on Monday night during a 132-117 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The 6-foot-2 guard entered with 6:46 left in the fourth quarter and Portland down 123-94, playing the rest of the game. During his time on the court the 22-year-old scored seven points, making both field goal attempts and all three free throws.

That same game saw ex-UA guard Josh Green come off the bench for Dallas to post career highs in points (9) and assists (10).

It’s been a long journey for Williams to get to this point. After playing for the UA as a freshman he missed the 2019-20 season due to a congenital knee condition that required surgery, then opted to turn pro last year. He didn’t play anywhere in 2020-21 before joining the Westchester Knicks of the G League in November.

Deandre Ayton getting paid by Puma

While the Phoenix Suns decided back in October they weren’t ready to give him a max contract extension, sportswear brand Puma was more than willing to give Ayton a new deal to endorse their products.

According to ESPN, Ayton’s deal—his second with Puma after signing with them in 2018—“is expected to place Ayton among the league’s top-three highest paid athletic brand endorsers at the center position.”

No terms were announced on the new shoe deal.

Ayton, 23, is in the final year of his 4-year, $40.4 million rookie deal he signed after the Suns took him first overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. The 7-foot center, who was averaging 17 points and 11.1 rebounds before entering COVID protocols on Monday, was seeking a 5-year, $172.5 million max extension. He could also sign a qualifying offer of approximately $16.4 million for the 2022-23 season, which would make him an unrestricted free agent in July 2023.