Deandre Ayton is special. You heard that. You knew that. But it wasn’t until he wore “ARIZONA” across his chest for the first time in Friday night’s Red-Blue Game that it really began to become reality — holy cow, this kid is special.
Ayton hit face-up mid-range jumpers, ripped down offensive rebounds for follow-up baskets, overmatched foes physically in the low post, ran the court like a guard and topped off the proceedings with a 3-pointer from straight-away.
Fellow true freshman Brandon Randolph won the dunk contest and poured in a silky smooth 16 points, but it was Ayton’s night — 21 points on 10 of 14 shooting and nine rebounds.
Just a scrimmage? Sure, it was just a scrimmage. But if you want to believe the hype, just trust your eyes and consider the postgame comments about the kid who was arguably the top recruit in the country.
“I think just physically, he’s way more far ahead,” said senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, trying to compare the 7-foot-1, 260-pound freshman to other players he has seen.
“I think it will be a tough task to battle down low with him because he’s so big, but on top of that, he’s so smart and unselfish. And when you have a great talent like that who is unselfish, it’s really special.”
19-year-old DeAndre Ayton is arguably the most physically imposing prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft. 7-0, 243 lbs, 7-6 wingspan, 9-3 reach. pic.twitter.com/hIrhOS6vbc
Coach Sean Miller said his five-man freshman class might be the best he’s had and their “attitude is tremendous.”
“And I think Deandre has a lot to do with that,” Miller said.
“When you’re that guy, and you walk into the gym with that much talent, you sort of are the compass of the team’s attitude, the confidence. He has a good head on his shoulder, a lot of confidence, but, man, I love the way he works. I love his competitive spirit.
“And what I really love and appreciate about him is you don’t have to chase him around this campus. He is where he is supposed to be. He does what he is supposed to do.”
Don’t bother with comparisons to anyone in Wildcats history. There isn’t one.
The closest Miller can come to, as far as someone he’s been around, is David West, who played at Xavier when Miller was an assistant there. West, at 6-foot-9, is in his 15th NBA season, having made almost $91 million in salary.
Miller said West played with a chip on his shoulder because he was under-recruited — not Ayton’s problem, for sure — and added that the former Musketeer had a high basketball IQ like a guard, with “good hands and a touch facing the basket.”
“Deandre is like a 7-foot, 260-pound, great athlete version of David,” Miller said.
Ayton showed his shooting range on the game’s first shot — a 17-foot from the left side. He flashed that shooting prowess before coming to Arizona, so Arizona might not be losing much of its 3-point ability from one of its post positions with the departure of Lauri Markkanen to the NBA.
“Lauri Markkanen was obviously an exceptional shooter for how tall he is. And I would say Lauri is a little bit better than Deandre but there’s not nearly the gap you anticipated. He has the ability to step out and hit the 3.
“It’s up to us to adjust and really take advantage of all the talent and skills Deandre brings to the table.”
Ayton posted a 43.5-inch vertical jump in preseason testing. He bench pressed 185 pounds 19 times.
This has been his first time in a dedicated strength-and-conditioning program, and Ayton has “embraced” the work in the weight room, Miller said.
“You look at him — his body fat, the way he moves, he’s become a more explosive athlete and a bigger, stronger, more physical payer because of all the hard work he has put him,” Miller said. “The same thing with his shooting.”
So, Arizona’s season of great expectations — various investigations, including one from the FBI, pending — is underway. The Wildcats are loaded. But Ayton is unique. And the postgame comments about his attitude, work ethic and unselfishness point to the potential of strong chemistry.
“It’s really weird to see someone who is that physically imposing, who can run, jump, move the way he does,” said junior guard Allonzo Trier. “It’s rare to have a big that has all that combination.”