On Thursday night, Deandre Ayton, 19, completed his journey from the Bahamas to the NBA. The native of Nassau, Bahamas, who the Phoenix Suns selected as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft last night, will now embark on an NBA career that will pay him millions.
On Monday, sportswear company Puma announced it had signed a four-year, multi-million dollar endorsement contract with Ayton that reportedly could pay him more than $1 million a year to endorse the brand's shoes and clothing. Meanwhile, Ayton's selection as the first pick of the NBA Draft almost ensures that he will sign a contract with the Suns that will pay him an estimated $6.8 million in his first year as a professional player, according to sports website RealGM, and he could get paid as much as $8 million.
It's all a major payday for Ayton, a former University of Arizona center who made news in his one college basketball season after getting caught up in an ongoing recruiting scandal.
But several years before his skills on the basketball court made the 7-foot, 1-inch Ayton a top NBA prospect, he was a kid trying to decide whether to work a summer job with his dad or practice his favorite new sport.
Ayton grew up in a "kind of run down" neighborhood in Nassau, he told Sports Illustrated in 2015. He lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his mother, stepfather and four siblings. Ayton has said he mostly played pick-up soccer, rather than basketball, as a kid. He also played the snare drum in his local church and school bands.
Ayton didn't start playing basketball regularly until he was 12, but his size — he was already 6-feet, 8-inches tall — made the sport an obvious choice. Still, Ayton's basketball skills needed refining since he hadn't grown up playing the game and didn't know all of the rules.
"I did terrible," he told Sports Illustrated about his earliest attempts to play basketball with other kids his age in the Bahamas. "They laughed at me a lot. I remember one time I jumped without shooting the ball. I thought it was a pump fake."
That same summer, Ayton reportedly started working a summer job with his plumber stepfather where he would make $20 a day, working five days a week. Ayton only made it a week under that arrangement, though, and he instead used the $100 he earned to enroll in a local basketball camp, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
The investment worked out, as a 12-year-old Ayton excelled at the Jeff Rodgers Basketball Camp, an instructional camp where former collegiate and professional basketball players have been teaching Bahamian youths skills of the game for more than three decades. The camp's organizers — who were impressed by Ayton's size, as well as his "preternatural agility and coordination," according to Sports Illustrated — put Ayton in touch with amateur basketball coaches in the U.S.
Ayton ended up moving to San Diego, where he lived with his coach, Shaun Manning, while attending the Balboa City School on a scholarship. Ayton's stepfather wasn't sure about Ayton moving to a new country at such a young age, but his mother encouraged him to take the chance, he told ESPN in January.
"My dad didn't want me to come," Ayton said, adding that his mother thought it was "a great opportunity. "She just sent me off. She didn't care what [his stepfather] had to say."
Ayton played two high school seasons at Balboa City School before transferring to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, Arizona for his final two years of high school. He landed at the nearby University of Arizona as a highly recruited college freshman and left college after only one season in which he was named to the Associated Press' All-American Team.
Now, at 19, Ayton gets to continue his journey in Phoenix, where he's now lived — along with his mother, who moved to the U.S. to join him — for the past three years.
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