DEANDRE Ayton at the Jeff Rodgers Basketball camp. Photo: 10th Year Seniors
By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
DEANDRE Ayton returned to the place where his basketball dreams first began.
Ayton made an appearance at the 31st Jeff Rodgers Basketball camp yesterday to interact with scores of enthusiastic campers eager to greet the No.1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft.
One day after the Thompson family and Leevan Sands visited the camp, Ayton told the campers of his basketball journey.
"I remember being here, I knew nothing about the game then, but I was inspired by guys like Klay Thompson who came to the camp when I sat where you are now," Ayton said.
"I had no idea where basketball would take me, but I listened to everyone who was willing to teach me and I was dedicated to the craft. This camp gave me the first opportunity and I'm grateful for that. I just want you guys to be inspired as well and take advantage of every opportunity in front of you."
Ayton was discovered locally at the Jeff Rodgers camp in 2011 before he headed to Balboa City School in San Diego, California. He eventually transferred to Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, Arizona.
"At the Jeff Rodgers Camp I didn't think I fell in love with the game right there. My mom just wanted me out of the house during the summer. That's when I really got exposed, that's when the opportunities started, but it's just great. When I came to the United States, I knew what hard work was," Ayton said on draft night.
Ayton used his platform on draft night to talk about the improvements he hopes to make in opportunities for other young Bahamian basketball players and displayed the lining of his jacket which paid homage to his multicultural heritage.
"I want to bring to The Bahamas, they don't have to leave home to think that they have an opportunity. We can bring the opportunity to them. I can help bring the opportunity to them. We can just start schools, we can start better basketball opportunities to really have more exposure. Instead of coming to the United States or going overseas, we'll just be at home and start our own trend," he said.
When the Phoenix Suns selected Ayton with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, it represented an historic moment for Ayton, the franchise and The Bahamas.
With Ayton's selection, The Bahamas joined the United States, Canada, Nigeria and Australia as the only countries with multiple No 1 overall NBA Draft picks. It also represented the first No 1 pick made by the Suns in franchise history and the first No 1 pick from the University of Arizona.
Ayton also previously participated in Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global 2016 in Toronto, Canada and joins Andrea Bargnani (Italy; BWB Europe 2003; 1st overall in the 2006 NBA Draft) as the highest drafted former Basketball Without Borders campers ever.
He was the ninth consecutive college freshman to be selected with the first overall pick. During his lone season at Arizona, Ayton led the NCAA with 24 double doubles - a PAC-12 freshman record. He averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game while shooting 61.6 per cent from the field, and was the "Karl Malone Power Forward" of the year consensus First Team All-American.
Ayton was one of only four players in the nation to average the aforementioned double double.
He was also Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, All-Defensive Team selection and Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament. The first player in conference history to win all awards.