NEW YORK — For the last few weeks, months — and, to some analysts, years — Deandre Ayton was destined to be No. 1.
A superskilled 7-foot-1 Bahamian who simply could not be passed over. A double-double machine in his one season with the Arizona Wildcats, opposing zone-and-junk defenses be damned.
His selection Thursday as the No. 1 pick by the Phoenix Suns, on a night when fellow ex-Wildcats Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier went undrafted, appeared to be one of the more undramatic No. 1 picks in NBA history.
Except when it really came down to it Thursday, in the final seconds, the otherwise supremely confident Ayton still had to look around for some affirmation.
From his mom.
“When I saw the commissioner come to the podium, I was nervous. My hands were sweaty,” Ayton said. “I kept asking my mom, ‘Do you think I’m going No. 1? Do you think I’m going No. 1?’”
Yes, of course, he did. The Suns made the long-expected pick, passing up hometown product Marvin Bagley III (second to Sacramento) and Slovenian guard Luka Doncic (third to Dallas via Atlanta), keeping the Bahamian big man in his adopted home state.
That was what Andrea Ayton pretty much figured.
“When the countdown started, he was like, ‘Mommy, how you feel?’” Andrea Ayton said. “I said, ‘I feel good. And I said, ‘I have faith.’
“You know, sometimes we have the answer but we are still nervous about it. That’s like a thing. But I have faith. I was calm. Comfortable. I knew he was going to go No. 1.”
She just didn’t tell Deandre that.
“I just tell him, ‘I have faith,’” she said. “That’s all I said.”
Of course, she was right. Everybody was right. And it didn’t take long before the Suns actually did it and the reality set in.
“Having my name called to be the first pick for the Phoenix Suns was mind-blowing,” Ayton said. “Having all that confidence and leading up to that point when I saw (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver came out, I was just waiting for my name, and when he called it, my mind went blank.
“I just did the routine everyone else was supposed to do, and I just got up there and enjoyed the moment, and I saw the reaction on my mom’s face. It was just priceless.”
It was a celebratory moment for Ayton, his native Bahamas, the Suns and the Arizona Wildcats alike.
The Bahamas had not produced a No. 1 NBA pick since 1978, when Mychal Thompson was picked first by Portland. No Arizona player had ever gone No. 1, though past Wildcats stars Derrick Williams (2011) and Mike Bibby (1998) got a close as No. 2.
The Wildcats now have 10 NBA Draft picks under coach Sean Miller, who took over the Wildcats in 2009-10.
“I’m thrilled for his family,” said Miller, who sat with the Aytons at their table inside the green room. “I’m really excited for him. … We all know he’s incredibly talented but also smart and a great teammate.”
At the same time, Miller said he was disappointed not to see Alkins and Trier getting drafted. Alkins has reportedly agreed to attend the Toronto Raptors’ training camp, while media reports say Trier has signed a “two-way” deal with the New York Knicks.
Together, Ayton, Trier and Alkins led UA to the Pac-12 and regular-season titles last season, though the Wildcats were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
While Ayton spent only one season at Arizona with them, it was a thoroughly dominating one.
Ayton threw down 24 double-doubles, averaging 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in his one season at Arizona, being named a consensus first-team All-American while also earning the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament MVP honors.
That’s when, Miller said, Ayton put a clamp on the No. 1 pick.
“A year ago, I don’t know if it was a consensus but it was certainly in the conversation,” Miller said of Ayton being the top pick. “But a lot of physical changes that happened with his body and a lot of his dedication and hard work ended up winning out.”
Watching all that dominance nearby in Phoenix, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough called Ayton a “special player.”
“It is extremely rare for a player with his size, length and athleticism to be able to not only finish around the rim but also step away from the basket and make shots,” McDonough said. “At 7-1 and exceptionally strong, he is uniquely gifted with his hand-eye coordination and footwork. In addition, he has strong ties to this area and we can’t wait to see him in a Suns uniform.”
Ayton will undoubtedly become a much-needed interior centerpiece for the Suns, who finished last season with a league-worst 21-61 record.
Even before the draft, Ayton spoke of himself and Suns guard Devin Booker being “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”
After it became official he could now aim for such a tandem, Ayton went into more detail.
“Basketball is really changing, so the two-man game is really hard to stop,” Ayton said. “Having a guard like Devin Booker, who can really score the ball, and me being a big man who can really pick-and-pop, very versatile, that’s very dangerous. The team in general is a very young and hungry team. We just have to stick together, get a great chemistry and start a winning legacy in Phoenix.”
While the Suns attracted a crowd to Talking Stick Resort Arena for the announcement, Ayton celebrated at Barclays Center along with a familiar crowd that included Andrea; his stepfather, Alvin; and Miller.
Ayton indicated he and Miller exchanged a heartfelt message.
“He just said, “I love you and (I said) ‘I love you too, Coach,” Ayton said. “We went through a lot, and I’m just happy he knows the type of work I put in. He knows I worked on my craft every day to get to this point.
Alkins and Trier did not join Ayton at the draft, but could — with a strong summer and the right fit — eventually meet him in the league.
“The one thing about the NBA is if you can play, you’ll find your way,” Miller said. “And those guys will.”