The No. 1 basketball recruit in the class of 2017 is not coming to Kentucky.
DeAndre Ayton — a 7-footer from the Bahamas — chose the Arizona Wildcats over fellow finalists UK and Kansas during Tuesday evening’s episode of “SportsCenter” on ESPN2.
Ayton announced earlier in the day that he would be revealing his decision on the nationally televised show. The timing was a surprise — Ayton was not expected to announce a college choice any time soon — and the destination was, too.
Kansas had long been seen as the favorite in Ayton’s recruitment, and the Jayhawks had 100 percent of the predictions on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page going into Tuesday.
But Ayton moved to Arizona last year to play for Hillcrest Prep — a start-up basketball program in Phoenix — and he intends to stay in the state for his college career.
“I made Arizona home,” he said. “My family can benefit from it by coming to my games. … We really trust those guys. We really trust their program. And I know they can help me get to the next level.”
Ayton’s recruitment has been full of questions regarding his NCAA eligibility status and even his intention of playing college basketball at all.
Those questions led most of the nation’s top college basketball programs — Kentucky included — to hold off on recruiting Ayton, who told the Herald-Leader and others in April that Kansas was the only school pursuing him at the time.
Ayton has always been complimentary of UK’s program — and the UK coaching staff did get a copy of Ayton’s transcript in late April — but there was never a sense that the Wildcats were seriously targeting the No. 1-ranked prospect.
Ayton acknowledged missing class time after his move to Arizona last year, but he says he has been told by the NCAA that he will be ruled eligible if he continues on his current track, which included taking classes over the summer. He’s also said that his mother told him he must go to college, even if for only one year, instead of trying to play overseas for a season before heading to the NBA.
“My family and I have said college is a must,” he reiterated Tuesday.
Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of talented frontcourt players in the class of 2017, including 7-footer Mohamed Bamba, who is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 2 overall prospect in that group.
Several frontcourt players on the upcoming UK team could also return for the 2017-18 season, including Isaac Humphries, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Consensus No. 1 recruits since John Calipari came to UK
No. 1 recruit
Shabazz Muhammad (tie)
Nerlens Noel (tie)
Source: RSCI rankings