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DeAndre Ayton is the best basketball prospect on Earth. Only one school is recruiting him

There's already a circus around the gifted 7-footer, and his recruitment is just getting started.

Josh Verlin / City of Basketball Love

DeAndre Ayton had already thoroughly imposed his will at the second stop of Nike's EYBL tour on Sunday when he made a simple play that left the scouts and college coaches packed into a suburban Indianapolis field house with their eyes wide and jaws agape.

With Ayton's Cal Supreme team up big and time winding down in the second half, a teammate missed a jumper from the top of the key. Ayton darted in from the left corner with the ball in the air, soared for a rim-level rebound and finished the putback. Two coaches sitting in the bleachers looked at each other and mouthed 'ohmygod' as Ayton casually ran to the other end and got in a defensive stance.

It might have seemed like an innocuous sequence within a 26-point, nine-rebound, four-assist performance, but it was indicative of the way DeAndre Ayton makes impossible plays look effortless.

There is no amateur basketball player in the world quite like Ayton, a 7-foot center from the Bahamas with the grace of a wing, a promising shooting stroke and a nearly 7'6 wingspan. He's the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017 and has been considered the best long-term prospect in high school basketball since the summer heading into his sophomore year.

He idolizes Hakeem Olajuwon, insists he wants to play small forward at the next level and is capable of putting up comic book stat lines like the 52 points, 33 rebounds and 10 blocks he posted against Sunrise Christian earlier this year.

Everyone agrees Ayton is already a special player with limitless potential. Which raises the question: Why is there only one school recruiting him right now?

* * *


A day earlier, after he had put up 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in a blowout win over Chicago's Mac Irvin Fire, a group of reporters covering Kentucky approached Ayton and pressed him on his recruitment.

There was a story on your blog that you were curious why some schools aren't recruiting you.

"I really don't care who is recruiting me to be honest. I'm just gonna stay on top of my game and try to be better."

Who is recruiting you? Who is hardest after you right now?

"Right now, it's Kansas."

That's it?

"That's it. I'm only seeing Kansas right now."

Are you not even hearing from anyone else right now?

"Not really. The word is I'm not going to college or something. But I say college is a must."

Why do you think that's out there?

"I don't know. Because Thon (Maker) went to the draft or something? They think I'm not going (to college). But I have to go to college. My mom wants me to go to college."

Does it come from any eligibility concerns? Where does it come from?

"No eligibility concerns."

At one point, I know Kentucky was very involved with you. Where are they at right now?

"Kentucky, right now they're mediocre. I'm not really big on who is really out there right now."

Are there any schools you'd like to hear from?

"No. Whoever comes comes. I'll look into it and figure something out."

Does it turn you off that some schools aren't recruiting you? No hard feelings?

"Not at all."

It was all kind of depressing in its own way. During a time when most elite high school basketball players visibly enjoy talking to reporters about this whirlwind portion of their lives, here's a 17-year-old who already seemed weary of the process.

How could he not be?

A player like DeAndre Ayton could have $500 million in his future. That might be a conservative estimate. When the spotlight is this bright, it's only natural for questions to follow. Does a big man this sublimely talented really want to waste a year playing for free in college? Would he even be eligible? Is he healthy? Is he overrated?

There's a target on Ayton's back. That isn't going to change anytime soon.

* * *

For a player who has already received so much hype, there aren't many people who have actually seen Ayton play. This is his first year playing a full grassroots schedule after missing most of last summer recovering from a broken patella. His decision to transfer from California's Balboa City to Arizona's Hillcrest Prep has only complicated matters.

Ayton transferred to play a national schedule alongside another superstar prospect, Marvin Bagley. Bagley, a 6'11 big man, is the No. 1 player in the class of 2018, but transferred from Hillcrest without ever playing a game. Bagley's father was reportedly worried about whether classes at Hillcrest were accredited by the NCAA. The students at the upstart program only take online courses.

Even as Bagley left, Ayton remained. Hillcrest played only one game in the state of Arizona last season, instead touring the country on the "Grind Session." That obscene 52-point, 33-rebound and 10-block effort came in the state of Kansas as Bill Self and six Jayhawk players watched from the stands.

That isn't even the best performance of Ayton's career.

Ayton's ascent began in the summer after his freshman season, when he put up 17 points and 18 rebounds in an exhibition game against North Carolina while playing for the Bahamas. Yes, a North Carolina front line that just went to the national championship game led by Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Ayton dominated them as a 15-year-old.

Ayton and Cal Supreme still have two more stops on the EYBL this spring before Peach Jam, the year-end championship event on Nike's grassroots circuit. He continues to insist he's going to college, but doesn't have a timetable to make a decision. The exposure feels like it's only getting started and already out of control at the same time.

One day, this period of his life will only be a footnote. For now, DeAndre Ayton just keeps getting better.