Phoenix Suns rookie 7-footer Deandre Ayton declined on Wednesday to comment on high-profile lawyer Michael Avenatti’s accusations that Nike paid his mother.
“To be honest, I have no comment on that,” Ayton said after Wednesday's shootaround before the Suns (17-58) played Washington (30-45) at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“I’m not really addressing that right now. I do not know anything about that, but the thing is for me to just focusing on finishing this season strong and just really polishing my rookie season and entering my first summer of the NBA.”
Ayton, 20, has previously denied allegations of receiving payments while he was a high school student. Coming out of Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix as the nation’s top recruit, Ayton went to the University of Arizona for one year, entered the NBA draft and was the No. 1 overall pick.
His name has come up during the ongoing probe into corruption in college basketball as Arizona’s recruitment of him drew scrutiny when the scandal broke last season. Last month, longtime Arizona assistant Emanuel "Book" Richardson pleaded guilty to accepting $20,000 to steer players to sign with agent runner Christian Dawkins when they went to the NBA.
Avenatti, who has been charged with scheming to extort money from Nike, on Tuesday tweeted that Nike paid Ayton’s mom.
Ask DeAndre Ayton and Nike about the cash payments to his mother and others. Nike’s attempt at diversion and cover-up will fail miserably once prosecutors realize they have been played by Nike and their lawyers at Boies. This reaches the highest levels of Nike.— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 26, 2019
Nike and Arizona, which has a multimillion-dollar contract with the athletic company, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Avenatti’s tweet came a day after New York federal prosecutors charged the attorney with four counts of extortion and conspiracy for allegedly threatening to reveal evidence that Nike improperly paid high school athletes unless the company forked over more than $15 million, according to court records.
Avenatti, who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, denied attempting to extort Nike and tweeted "when the evidence is disclosed, the public will learn the truth about Nike’s crime & coverup."
An ESPN report in February 2018 claimed the FBI intercepted telephone conversations of Sean Miller talking about paying $100,000 to ensure Ayton sign with the Wildcats.
Miller has denied the report, saying he never discussed with Dawkins paying Ayton to attend Arizona or met or spoke to Dawkins until after Ayton publicly announced he was coming to the university.
Paul Kelly, an attorney Arizona hired, said at the time there wasn’t a “shred of evidence" to suggest Ayton or his family received money or benefits to ensure he played for the Wildcats.
Ayton is nearing the end of a rookie season in which he’s averaging 16.3 points on 58.6 percent shooting and 10.2 rebounds per game going into Wednesday’s contest with the Wizards.
Ayton has 37 doubles-doubles as he looks to break the Suns rookie record for most double-doubles set by Alvan Adams in 1975-76, and he is in the running for Rookie of the Year honors with Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
“I’m pleased (with Ayton’s rookie season) and hopefully we’re going to around to see what he’s going to be in the next year, three years from now, five years from now,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said.
Kokoskov talked about how big men depend on guards in addressing Ayton’s rookie year, saying “they just can’t bring the ball up the court. Guards can do that.”
Ayton’s offseason plans may just change that whole way of thinking in Phoenix.
“Taking the ball off the rim and pushing it,” Ayton said when asked about what he wants to work on during the summer. “That’s what I’m going to be doing next year. I really look up to Giannis (Antetokounmpo) when he does stuff like that and how he controls the ball in transition. It opens up the floor for everybody. Shooters are in their corners. It’s unusual for a big man to be dribbling that much.”
Ayton sees it as a way to create shots for shooters when the defense helps on him dribbling the ball.
“That’s what I’ve been studying a lot,” Ayton said.
Ayton also looks to shoot the 3 more in games and strengthen his lower body. He’s only attempted four 3s this season — he's missed them all — and has his share of struggles matching up physically with players in the league.
“I got bullied a couple of times by these centers,” Ayton said. “Guards, too, to where I can’t move. Literally. They just showed me ways, like, your legs need to get stronger. Just looking at film and seeing. How did he move me like this?”
Arizona Republic staff writer Anne Ryman contributed to this report.