UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky back in the mix for No. 1 recruit Ayton, but questions remain

DeAndre Ayton addresses rumors surrounding his recruitment

No. 1 basketball recruit DeAndre Ayton talks about Kentucky and why many schools aren't showing much interest in his recruitment.
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No. 1 basketball recruit DeAndre Ayton talks about Kentucky and why many schools aren't showing much interest in his recruitment.

A couple of months ago, high school basketball star DeAndre Ayton raised some eyebrows when he said that Kansas was the only program showing any interest in his recruitment.

That’s not how it normally works for a talent the caliber of Ayton, a 7-footer who is considered to be the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2017 by all of the major recruiting services.

No one has questioned Ayton’s potential — he’s long been ranked as the top player in his class — but colleges have expressed concern over a couple of aspects of his recruitment.

I’m going to college. It’s a must.

DeAndre Ayton, top basketball recruit

First, there have been consistent rumblings that Ayton might skip college altogether. A native of the Bahamas, he started his American high school career in California and now plays for a prep school in Arizona.

He’d almost certainly land a lucrative contract if he chose to go pro after his upcoming senior season of high school and play overseas before entering the NBA Draft in 2018.

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He’s said repeatedly over the past few months — and reiterated Thursday at the Nike Peach Jam — that he’s not going to go that route.

“There’s no overseas,” Ayton said. “I’m going to college. It’s a must. … I just want to go to college and get the experience. I really want to win a national championship. Get a chance, even though I’m one and done. I would love to be in that atmosphere.”

If he does indeed go to college, there’s concern that he wouldn’t be able to play for whichever top program signs him.

Ayton is also aware of that rumor, and he says there’s nothing to it.

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He acknowledged missing some classes when he moved from California to Hillcrest Prep in Arizona, but he’s been taking online classes through the Arizona Connections Academy this spring and summer to make up for the missed schoolwork. He said he’s been in contact with the NCAA over his academic status, and they say he’s on track to be eligible academically.

Ayton also said that he’ll attend an actual, physical high school this fall — instead of taking online courses — while he continues to play for Hillcrest during his senior season.

As expected, his talent is starting to trump the concerns about his future plans.

When he’s playing hard and getting after it, he’s as good of a player as there is in high school basketball.

Evan Daniels, Scout.com recruiting analyst

Kentucky and Arizona have jumped back into Ayton’s recruitment in recent weeks. He visited Arizona last month, and that program is trying to sell him on becoming the first No. 1 draft pick in school history.

“I like to hear stuff like that,” he said with a smile.

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UK’s coaches told Ayton that they want to start building a relationship with him going forward and that they’d “love” for him to be a Wildcat. He said he thinks of “greatness” when he thinks of UK’s program.

“They build NBA players,” he said. “Everybody that goes there is pretty good, and they just work on them. They turn them into NBA players, superstars.”

John Calipari is among the coaches who have watched Ayton play through the first two games of the Peach Jam finals, where he’s averaging 23.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks so far.

Scout.com’s Evan Daniels says Ayton has always had unbelievable talent — he’s a 7-footer who can block shots, rebound, run the floor, dominate with his back to the basket and is a legitimate threat from three-point range — and he’s recently showing more effort on the court.

“It’s just consistency with him,” Daniels said. “He’s got the size, the length, the athleticism, the mobility, the offensive tools. He just hasn’t always put them together. When he’s playing hard and getting after it, he’s as good of a player as there is in high school basketball.”

Daniels acknowledged that there will still be questions about Ayton’s future plans — despite his comments that he definitely wants to play college basketball — and many coaches are clearly still hesitant to recruit a player who might never play a minute at the next level.

“I’m not really worried about that right now,” Ayton said. “I’m still in high school. I got one more year. I’ve got a lot of unfinished business.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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