How many of us have been counting down to July 23? You know, the date on which the Phoenix Suns play their first scrimmage game inside the Orlando Bubble against the Utah Jazz. Probably not too many people, especially considering we didn’t find out that this would be scrimmage game numero uno until July 4.
There is one guy who has been counting down to July 23, 2020 since July 24, 2019: Suns big man Deandre Ayton.
DA will be blowing out the candles on a birthday cake today (most likely not from Costco, as they have discontinued half-sheet cakes) as he turns 22 years old. The native of Nassau, Bahamas will spend his birthday in Orlando playing competitive basketball for the first time in 135 days.
What a journey it has been for the young center.
The Deandre Ayton story isn’t your typical journey to the #1 pick. Whereas most top prospects are “born with a basketball in their hand” and have numerous team photos with youth teams, Ayton grew up on the poorer side of the Bahamas and primarily played pick up soccer games as a child. His height could not be ignored, however, and he desprately wanted to play basketball. He told SI.com in 2015, “As soon as I got the ball in my hand, I really wanted to play against the best and be the best.”
Ayton didn’t attend his first basketball camp until he was 11. The is correct: He has only been playing basketball 11 years of his life to this point.
By the age of 12 he was 6’8” and, although he wasn’t a polished basketball talent (noting in the SI.com interview that, “I remember one time I jumped without shooting the ball. I thought it was a pump fake.”), plenty of eyes were on him at the Jeff Rodgers Basketball Camp. Before DA knew it, he was being guided to play AAU ball in San Diego.
Ayton soon was attending a private school, Balboa City School, and spending his free time traveling with 17-and-under AAU teams. It was in eighth grade that everyone began to learn his name and see his promise. While attending the 2013 Pangos Middle School All-American Camp, a camp that has seen the likes of James Harden, Aaron Gordon, Bradley Beal, and Anthony Davis participate, Deandre began turning heads. Following his performance, he was dubbed the “#1 Eighth Grader” in the country by ballislife.com.
His abilities continued to flourish and his reputation continued to grow. He played his first two high school seasons at Balboa School in Escondido, California, a far cry from the streets of Nassau. In 2015 Ayton was named the #1 sophomore prospect in the country, ahead of Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum.
Look at this young man:
Fast forward through his transfer to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, his recruitment as the #4 overall high school prospect in 2017, and his impressive freshman season at the University of Arizona. By the time he entered his name into the 2018 NBA Draft, he had been playing basketball for just 7 years. The raw talent and athleticism of this young man was so prevalent that Ayton was drafted #1 overall by the Phoenix Suns.
Today, the day he turns 22 years old, the next challenge and opportunity lies ahead for Deandre Ayton. The basketball world will be watching what is occurring in Orlando and the spotlight will be once again be upon him. Just as it had in the basketball camps as a teenager. Just as it had in AAU games, high school competition, and PAC-12 matches.
The unfortunate 25-game suspension that opened the 2019-20 season delayed his growth in the national media’s eye, but for those who watch his performance nightly, we know what we have.
Based on initial observations from his fellow players, he is ready to show the world that he is a force.
“DA is the biggest person I see with his change of body,” Mikal Bridges said of Ayton. “Just moving quicker. He already kind of moved like a guard before this but he seemed like he got a little more quick and explosive. I think he’s probably the biggest one that stands out.”
Shine bright, DA. It’s your day. Happy birthday big guy.