In a surprising development, the Arizona Wildcats landed the No. 1 player of the 2017 recruiting class in DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix.
Ayton is the highest-rated recruit Arizona has landed in the Sean Miller era and it’s just the second time (dating back to when recruiting rankings started becoming a thing) that Arizona has landed the No. 1 overall recruit in a class.
It’s a big-time addition and Arizona fans have every reason to be ecstatic about it. And here’s everything you need to know about Ayton:
Ayton’s player profile
It’s safe to say Sean Miller hasn’t had a player like DeAndre Ayton since arriving at Arizona. I mean, some NBA teams don’t even have players with physical attributes like Ayton’s on their roster.
Ayton’s measurements are insane. In shoes, he measures at 6’11.75" with a 7’5" wingspan and a 9’3" standing reach. Also, his max vertical was measured at 34.5 at the Under Armor All-American Camp in 2015.
Here’s how those measurements compare to some of the best big men to come out of college in recent years:
The fact Ayton is physically comparable to someone like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns is absurd.
At the same time, there’s more to basketball than just being a physical specimen. And so what does Ayton’s skill-set look like?
Here’s an excerpt from DraftExpress.com’s evaluation:
"What's so impressive about Ayton at this stage, is his physical and athletic abilities, and how he uses them to have an impact on the game. He has the ability to dominate the game in the paint, using his size and strength to finish inside, crash the boards, and protect the rim. He is not the most explosive athlete, but he is long, and quick off the floor, and has the fluidity and change of speed to look at ease running the floor in transition, not a skill many guys his size have. Ayton's back to the basket game is not yet polished, and he often just relies on his physical tools to get him what he wants. He is a willing passer, who can force things at times, but made some really nice high-low passes, using his size to see over the top of the defense.
Ayton's motor and aggressiveness has been questioned at times, often blending in, when it seems he should be able to impact the game on almost every possession. At 7-feet tall he can dominate the game in the paint, but can often get caught floating around the perimeter. He has some potential down the line as a stretch big who can spot up and shoot it from the deep, but his mechanics are inconsistent, and he still shoots it at very much a line drive angle."
In short, Ayton's still developing, but he does everything that you want a modern big man to do. He protects the rim, he can run the floor, he can finish at the rim, and he can even stretch the floor to an extent. And he does that while possessing elite physical tools.
DeAndre Ayton has such a pretty stroke on this mid-range J pic.twitter.com/5PaxtxZYgM— Ridiculous Upside (@RidicUpside) July 16, 2016
There’s a reason Ayton is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The Ayton Effect
Up until Ayton’s commitment, Sean Miller hadn’t been able to land the big fish.
He’s landed some high-profile recruits — Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, and Kaleb Tarczewski having been the highest-rated — and had some terrific overall recruiting classes, but he had never landed the top recruit.
And now that Miller has, it will have both short-term and long-term effects on Arizona basketball.
The short-term effects are obvious — Ayton is good at doing basketball things and will help Arizona be better at doing basketball things in 2017. You don’t need me to tell you that.
But there's that plus the notion that Ayton’s commitment will help Arizona land other top recruits of the 2017 class too.
It’s really no secret that highly-rated recruits are more likely to commit to schools that already have top-tier talent. In the 2016 class, for example, two of the top four players signed with Duke, and four of the top-14 players signed with Kentucky. And in 2015, three of the top-15 players signed with Duke, while three of the top-12 signed with Kentucky.
When Arizona is trying to fill out its 2017 recruiting class, Miller can now use the "oh hey, did I mention that you’ll be playing with the top player in the country?" pitch.
It works, plus Ayton is planning to do some recruiting of his own.
"I really want another big to come with me," he told Scout. "It will be really serious. Get a nice little (NCAA) championship ring to leave with. Just looking for another big so I can stretch the floor a little bit."
The likely result is Arizona is going to have a monster 2017 recruiting class and, therefore, a title-contending team in the 2017-18 season.
The "Ayton Effect" — as I’ll call it — won’t end there, either.
With Ayton, the Wildcats will receive copious amounts of attention in 2017-18. One, because they’ll be playing for a title and two, because they’ll have the projected No. 1 NBA Draft pick on their roster.
Arizona will be in the national spotlight even moreso than it already is, and that type of exposure matters. It could directly lead to a strong 2018 recruiting class (did I mention that the No. 1 player in that class, Marvin Bagley, is from Arizona?).
A top-flight 2018 class could then lead to a top 2019 class, which could then lead to a top 2020 class, etc.
It’s a chain reaction and though Ayton’s commitment might not be what started it all (since Arizona has recruited well for a while now), it could help propel Arizona basketball to an even higher level than it’s at now.
Potential eligibility issues
There have been concerns about Ayton’s eligibility throughout his recruitment process — so much so that some top-tier programs didn’t even bother recruiting him.
Ayton attends Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix and, as our own Alec Sills-Trausch pointed out after Ayton's commitment, it’s a "quasi-high school that doesn’t actually have any classrooms."
However, as Alec noted, their website states they offer "NCAA-certified high school and college courses through Arizona Connections Academy (online) and Sequoia Choice Precision School (traditional)."
It doesn’t sound like an ideal set-up, and the Wildcats have been burned by recruits being unable to qualify academically before.
In 2008, Brandon Jennings, then the nation’s top recruit, failed to qualify at Arizona, leading him to play overseas.
Then this past June, five-star prospect Terrance Ferguson skipped on attending the University of Arizona in order to play professionally in Australia.
Ferguson’s academic standing was reportedly an issue and it may have been the deciding factor in his decision to head overseas, though it’s still unclear if that was indeed the case.
But like Ayton, Ferguson went to a "quasi-high school." The difference, which is super important, is Ayton has every intention of playing college basketball.
"Not at all," he said on ESPN when asked if skipping school was a possibility. "My family says college is a must."
Plus, Ayton’s academic standing — even if he does attend a "quasi-high school" — appears to be in good shape.
"His parents want him to go to college," Hillcrest head coach Matt Allen told USA Today. "He’s good enough that he could (skip college and play a year internationally) like Emmanuel Mudiay, but they really want him to go to college. He has five credits to graduate and will need to take four to six classes as a senior. He’s scheduled to take the SAT in October and December."
Allen also said Ayton has "maintained a 3.2 grade-point average and is working hard to make sure he’s eligible academically for college."
That being said, there’s still reason to be concerned about Ayton’s ability to qualify, and you probably shouldn’t get too comfortable until he officially enrolls at the UA. We've been in this situation before.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA