- Part of a stacked recruiting class, DeAndre Ayton joins a talented Arizona roster that could deliver coach Sean Miller his first Final Four berth.
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 2 overall recruit, Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton.
What he means for Arizona’s recruiting class
Ayton is the crown jewel of Sean Miller’s latest off-season haul, a five-star headliner and the highest-rated recruit in program history flanked by guards Brandon Randolph (a 6’ 6” wing from Yonkers, N.Y.) and Alex Barcello (a 6’ 2” local product out of Phoenix) and 6’ 8” forwards Emmanuel Akot and Ira Lee, all of whom are top-100 recruits.
Ayton, a seven-footer, had kept his recruitment fairly hush-hush before his announcement on SportsCenter in September, when he revealed he would be the latest in Miller’s steady parade of five-star signees. The hope in Tucson is his impact will be more like those of, say, Aaron Gordon or Lauri Markkanen than Grant Jerrett or Josiah Turner.
How he fits
Throughout the spring, Ayton has been telling reporters that he sees himself playing as a stretch four for the Wildcats, which would mean sliding into the role vacated by similarly sized and similarly touted one-and-done star Lauri Markkanen, who was drafted seventh overall to the Bulls in this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton, however, is not aiming to be his predecessor’s clone; in April, he told The Arizona Republic that Markkanen “programmed himself to be outside a little too much for me. I think I can start inside and be a threat, get more physical inside and step outside for threes.” That sort of inside-outside threat could go a long way toward helping Arizona live up to its high expectations.
It seems like only a matter of time before Miller gets over the hump and reaches his first Final Four, and this could be the squad with which to do it. Ayton’s incoming classmates on the wing—Randolph and Akot, both consensus top-50 players—are prime candidates to make immediate impacts, and all of them will be playing alongside probable All-America guard Allonzo Trier, who averaged 17.2 points and shot 39.1% from three as a sophomore last season.
The Pac-12’s Los Angeles contingent will make noise, but with elite incoming talent and one of the nation’s best players in tow, the Wildcats look like the class of their conference, and possibly the country.