The McDonald’s All-American Game is sometimes known as a defense-free platform for the nation’s best high school players to introduce themselves to college and NBA fans.
But for UA signee DeAndre Ayton, Wednesday’s game in Chicago and the days leading to it are something else all together.
He could have a chance to cement himself as indisputably the best player in the high school class of 2017.
Ayton, an exceptionally skilled 7-footer from the Bahamas who is scheduled to play for the Wildcats next season, was rated atop the class for much of his high school career, which began in San Diego and continued at Phoenix’s Hillcrest Prep the last two seasons.
Ayton is still listed as the No. 1 player overall on 24/7 Sports’ composite rankings of major scouting sites, while 24/7’s own rankings and ESPN have Seattle’s Michael Porter Jr. at No. 1.
Scout analyst Josh Gershon says his site will be finalizing its 2017 rankings soon, and will have to decide between Porter and Ayton.
“Porter had the more consistent season but we have to make a final call on these kids soon and obviously what happens this week has a big say in that,” Gershon said. “It’ll be interesting to watch those two go head-to-head.”
For analysts and NBA scouts alike, it isn’t so much Wednesday’s game that matters, especially since Porter and Ayton will be on the same West team. It’s the three practices beforehand at Chicago’s Quest Multisport Gym, where onlookers line up against the walls to evaluate what essentially are NBA Draft prospects for 2018 and beyond.
In one respect, Gershon said, it isn’t about seeing Ayton go up against any one player such as Porter but more about whether he can show a consistently high motor that was probably his biggest question mark entering his senior year.
“It’s just seeing Ayton bring that effort — whether in practice or games, we just want to see Ayton bring everything he’s capable of,” Gershon said. “He’s obviously an unbelievable talent but you have to worry about that.”
However, Gershon said Ayton played the hardest he had seen when he watched him last in December and Ayton’s coach at Hillcrest Prep, Kyle Weaver, said Ayton has done a lot this season to dispel that concern.
Ayton averaged 21.1 points, 16.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game while playing a national schedule for Hillcrest, and Weaver said he improved as a leader and high-motor player.
“He’s really matured this year,” Weaver said. “He’s just been phenomenal with his effort. He doesn’t take plays off.”
Weaver said Ayton has also improved his ballhandling while playing mostly a face-up post position.
“We don’t have a legit five,” Weaver said. “We don’t play back to the basket much. But we have him do a lot of pick and roll, shooting off dribbles. We’re trying to develop him from one to five.”
Ayton and Porter are both scheduled to also play in the Jordan Brand Classic on April 14, on opposite teams in that game, while three of UA’s top remaining recruiting targets will play in both: Forward Brian Bowen of Indiana, guard Trevon Duval and center Brandon McCoy.