By RENALDO DORSETT
THE Sand Between Your Toes Showcase proved to be a welcoming homecoming experience for the most highly regarded high school basketball prospect in America.
Bahamian prep superstar DeAndre Ayton had his first opportunity to play at home in several years and powered his Hillcrest Prep Bruins (Phoenix, Arizona) to a 2-0 outing in the showcase hosted at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Ayton averaged 27.5 points, nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks on the weekend. In game one, he posted 21 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a 69-62 win over 22 Feet Academy (Anderson, South Carolina). In game two, Ayton flashed his outside shooting touch and defensive skillset matched up against Auburn commit Austin Wiley and The Conrad Academy.
Ayton finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists in a 77-68 win for Hillcrest. Wiley finished with 25 points and eight rebounds.
Dozens of eager spectators were on hand both nights to witness the Bahamian native in action who has been rated the top prospect by every reputable scouting or news organisation and has committed to the Arizona Wildcats for the Fall 2016-17 season.
“It felt great being back. As soon as I walked in the gym all eyes were on me. I felt back home,” Ayton said. “I just really wanted to put on a show the minute I stepped on the floor. [After my first dunk] I wanted another one, I could see people were thirsty for another dunk, another highlight reel play. I really wanted to hear the noise and get that crowd reaction every time I made a play, especially when I dunked the ball. It really kept me going, kept me motivated running the floor right to get those fast breaks and those buckets to put on a show.”
Ayton has risen to the top of the high school basketball circuit after just a few short years and chose to end his recruitment process before his senior season ever began when he announced his decision to attend Arizona in a press conference broadcasted live on ESPN’s SportsCenter this summer.
The 7’0”, 235-pound phenom, had a busy summer on the circuit which included stops on the Nike EYBL, Adidas Nations and for the Bahamian national team, but despite all his accolades, thought it was important to pay homage to his home crowd.
As he left the floor in the final game, he received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Just being here means a lot to play in front of the fans, in front of my home crowd and so that they know their support means a lot to me,” he said.
Local teams participating in the showcase included the defending Hugh Campbell and national champion – CC Sweeting Cobras, the GI Gibson Rattlers, the Tabernacle Baptist Falcons and the St George’s Jaguars.
The Falcons, led by star guard Franco Miller, emerged as the most impressive team in the group and finished the showcase with a 2-0 record.
In game one, they defeated the Rattlers 88-73 and followed with a 55-22 win over the Cobras.
The Jaguars opened with a 34-24 over the Cobras in the opening game of the event.
In the local finale, the Rattlers defeated the Jaguars 51-39.
In addition to the Bruins, other visiting schools which competed included Prolific Prep (Napa, California), Victory Rock (Brandenton, Florida), The Conrad Academy (Orlando, Florida), The Tech Academy (Ontario, Canada) and 22 Feet Academy (Anderson, South Carolina.).
Prolific Prep is arguably the most highly touted of the group featuring an elite backcourt of Gary Trent Jr and Paul Scruggs.
Trent, the recent Duke commit, will play in the Bahamas for the third time after participating in both editions of the Nike EYBL Bahamas exhibition series.
A five-star recruit, the 6’5” 200 pound guard is ranked No.8 in the ESPN 100 and has been listed as a USA Today Preseason All-American.
Prolific Prep remained undefeated on the season and won both games at the showcase (87-67) over Conrad and a win in the finale over Victory Rock.
Tech Academy also finished at 2-0 with a 72-66 win over Victory Rock and an 83-71 win over 22 Feet Academy.