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Former Sun Devil Jeff Ayres enjoying ‘awesome’ experience with Spurs

PHOENIX — A familiar face with an unfamiliar name returned to the Valley Wednesday.

“(The fans) might not know who I am,” Spurs forward Jeff Ayres said. “I’ll just put aka ‘Pendergraph’ under my number.”

Good idea, but not necessary.

Fans, while they may not have recognized the name, recognized the face and gave the player they knew as Jeff Pendergraph — who set school records at ASU for games played (126) and started (120) — a favorable response when he dunked for his first points, even though he was wearing the hated San Antonio black and silver.

It was his first appearance at US Airways Center since he chose to legally change his name over the summer.

“I decided to take my Dad’s last name,” Ayres said prior to the game against the Suns. “The ‘Pendergraph’ name was my Mom’s ex-husband’s last name. I didn’t want to change it after they divorced because I didn’t want to not get recruited because they didn’t know who I was. And then in college, I didn’t want to not get drafted because they didn’t know who I was.

“After my daughter (Naomi, who will be seven months old Thursday) was born,” he continued, “I wanted to do it for her. I wanted to her have a name that she was really affiliated with. And it was something cool -— my Dad really liked it, too.”

The name may have changed, but the player, and more importantly the person, has not.

“He’s one of those blue-collar type guys,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Good defense. Good rebounder. Unselfish. Plays his role and doesn’t try to get out of his role. He’s been good to have.”

After two seasons in Indiana, Ayres signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with the Spurs in July.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Looking at it, it’s been like the perfect situation. Got to move closer to here (the Valley), so now my wife is a lot closer to her family. I’m closer to mine. We get to play in the west now, so we get to come here more often and get to L.A. more often. And the weather is a lot better.

“And I get to play,” the Sun Devils’ sixth all-time leading scorer added. “Regardless, that’s like the best thing. I get to play. I’m surrounded by, not just like All-Stars but Hall of Famers, some of the guys that are the best at it ever. The opportunity to learn from these guys and to have…a role, like a significant role for me is awesome.”

Ayres is playing almost 13 minutes a game, a career-high, while averaging 2.2 points and 3.2 rebounds, also a career-high.

“My family is good. My career is good. Life is good. I’m blessed,” he said.

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