Fab Freshmen of Faith: DeAndre Ayton, University of Arizona

This story appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine, which will hit mailboxes March 19. Support our ministry and subscribe here.

Every time DeAndre Ayton steps on the hardwood, he’s rewriting history.

Take the Arizona freshman’s record for the most double-doubles in a season, for example. The previous school record stood at 12 double-doubles; it took Ayton just 19 games to reach 13 double-doubles. Another record for the 7-foot-1, 250-pound forward from the Bahamas: He tied the Wildcats’ mark for most rebounds in a game with 19 against Arizona State.

A Wooden Award candidate for most outstanding college basketball player, Ayton has transitioned well into the college game. Averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds this season, he started the year with nine double-doubles in his first 11 games. One of his best efforts was Arizona’s close win over Alabama, in which he scored 29 points and added 18 rebounds in 36 minutes of play.

Ayton is being compared to versatile NBA bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis. NBA scouts like his soft hands in the post, which allow him to finish well around the basket. When he’s not using his 43.5-inch vertical jump to dunk over helpless defenders, he can step out to the perimeter and knock down mid-range jumpers.

“I’m not a regular big man,” Ayton told Sporting News. “I’m a mobile big man. I’m not trying to be big, like 270. I like it the way I am: pretty mobile and running the floor.”

Born in the Bahamas, Ayton grew up playing soccer until he almost literally grew out of the sport. At just 12 years old, he stood 6-5 and basketball became his sport of choice. After being discovered in a summer basketball camp in 2011, he moved to San Diego a year later to live with a summer coach and attend a private school. Four years later, he attended Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, where he was paired with another top recruit, Marvin Bagley III. There, Ayton’s skills blossomed and he became the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to Scout.com.

Now, being in the spotlight, Ayton understands he is a role model to kids back in his homeland. Earlier in the season, when Arizona played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Ayton went to speak with students at Mt. Carmel Preparatory Academy in Nassau. As he fielded questions from the kids, one staffer asked him how he felt to be back home as a basketball star. Rather than boast about his abilities, Ayton responded with a piece of advice that has helped him stay grounded in his faith and motivated on the hardwood.

“I told them to put God first,” Ayton told Bleacher Report, “and to be prepared to sacrifice.”

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