Hillcrest Academy center DeAndre Ayton split his Saturday in Lawrence as a spectator and the main event.
A few hours after watching Kansas University defeat Texas at Allen Fieldhouse, the 6-foot-11 Phoenix prep became the main attraction Saturday night at Free State High, where the junior’s 35 points, 21 rebounds and eight blocked shots carried the Bruins to a 71-67 victory against Wichita’s Sunrise Christian Academy.
The No. 4-ranked high school junior in the nation according to Rivals.com, Ayton often exploded quickly off the floor to snatch rebounds out of the air and violently attack the rim, as KU coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend watched from their court-side seats. Jayhawks Perry Ellis, Cheick Diallo and Dwight Coleby saw the show, too, as Ayton, a Bahamas native, abused the FSHS rims, with 11 savage dunks — eight coming on offensive rebounds.
Sunrise out-performed Ayton’s Hillcrest team much of the game, and the big man’s Bruins trailed 31-26 at halftime. But Ayton said he became more abusive toward the rim as the game grew more competitive. Much of the night, he dunked with the ease and authority of a child taking his frustrations out on the Nerf basket in his bedroom.
“It was personal,” Ayton said. “They were talking trash out there, and I tried to show them, you know, we’re gonna win this game, this is who I am, stuff like that.”
A prize recruit with KU, Duke, Kentucky, Cal, Michigan, North Carolina, San Diego State and UCLA on his list, Ayton played all 40 minutes of the showcase, one of six games played nationally as part of The Grind Session. Ayton’s activity on the defensive end of the floor picked up in the second half, as Hillcrest surged toward a victory.
“I had to run more,” the young big said. “I had to put a lot more effort in.”
His afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse required far less work. Ayton said he had a “pretty good” visit and enjoyed the atmosphere. Much like his Hillcrest team, KU had to rally on Saturday. The effect of the crowd left an impression on the center.
“I couldn’t hear myself, to be honest. I love stuff like that,” Ayton said. “I love playing in front of people. I love entertainment. And I just felt all the love with Kansas, like a player if I was there.”
Mobile and imposing on the court, Ayton said his interest in Kansas stems from the year Joel Embiid spent with the Jayhawks, because he liked how Self used the agile center.
Watching Ellis operate and score 26 points against Texas further piqued his interest: “It’s crazy. They have a lot of plays where they really went through him.”
Ayton, who hopes to incorporate a consistent perimeter shot to his game, paid attention when Ellis got the ball outside and took his man off the dribble or hoisted a three. The young big, who has only been playing for five years, didn’t do much ball handling versus Sunrise, but he did attempt eight from three-point range, hitting two.
“It’s still a little shaky,” the high school junior admitted of his long-range accuracy. “I’m still working on it.”
The more his game evolves, the more sought after he becomes.
“I just don’t think about nothing,” Ayton said. “I just be a kid at the end of the day. You know, sit at home, video games, homework. I don’t really overthink or overwhelm myself with too much stuff, like the media stuff.”
— See what people were saying about KU vs. Texas during KUsports.com’s live blog.