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Sports Illustrated’s Sharp: Deandre Ayton’s confidence is ‘very real’

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The NBA Draft is just days away, as the Phoenix Suns prepare to make history by picking No. 1 overall for the first time ever.

Some fans and NBA pundits believe former Arizona Wildcat Deandre Ayton is the clear favorite to go first overall, while others continue to make a case for Slovenian star Luka Doncic.

Despite the rumors, predictions and stories surrounding the NBA Draft, Sports Illustrated writer Andrew Sharp knows one thing is for sure: Ayton’s confidence isn’t all for show.

“All the confidence is very real, he is not just saying the right things,” Sharp told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta on Thursday. “He puts a lot of time in practices. He feels like he has worked very hard and is the best player in the draft.”

Sharp recently spent time with Ayton outside of a gym, hoping to capture the 7-foot-1, 250-pounder’s personality off the court.

While at a popular venue in Scottsdale, TopGolf, Sharp says Ayton’s personality truly came out.

“He does sort of have a little Joel Embiid in him, he is very funny and sarcastic in a cutting way sometimes,” Sharp said. “I went out there not knowing much about Deandre. He does have a big personality and I think that is going to play very well in the NBA.”

Ayton’s personality and confidence showed last week after he concluded a solo workout with the Phoenix Suns, saying he is the best competitor in the draft and that he “knows” he will be No. 1 overall.

But despite the glowing confidence at just 19 years old, Sharp said Ayton’s road to this moment had its fair share of bumps along the way.

Born in the Bahamas, Ayton was brought to the United States when he was 12 years old to play in a competitive amateur basketball league in San Diego, California. It’s there that Sharp said Ayton had to mature at a faster pace than a lot of his peers.

“He played in San Diego with some coaches who he isn’t close to anymore,” Sharp said. “He lived with some families where there were trust issues along the way. It was kind of a strange situation that speaks to how strange elite amateur basketball can get in this country.

“I wouldn’t say he is bitter, but it was a complicated journey and going forward, life is going to get a little simpler for him.”

Part of the potential simplicity comes with the chance to stay in Phoenix, where he attended Hillcrest Prep after his family moved to the Valley.

Ayton has been widely criticized for his perceived lack of defensive ability during his time under Sean Miller in Tucson. Playing in the four-spot alongside fellow big man Dusan Ristic, Ayton was forced to cover players along the wing, essentially taking him out of his comfort zone near the rim.

But despite another seven-footer’s presence on the offensive end, Ayton still averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game en route to being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

He will remain at the center position at the next level, something Sharp believes will help improve on both ends of the court in the right situation.

“Particularly from an NBA standpoint, he’s got a lot of room to grow,” Sharp said. “Some of the defensive concerns are a little bit overblown and there’s a good chance he is going to be more comfortable at the next level. Being with a stable coaching staff will really help him as a basketball player.”

Whether or not he is picked No. 1 overall remains to be seen, but one thing remains certain: All eyes will be on Ayton when the Suns’ pick comes in.

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