Fast friends Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges now teammates with Suns

Jun 22, 2018, 4:54 PM | Updated: 5:58 pm
Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges, left, and Deandre Ayton, right, laugh as they answer a question as the...
Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges, left, and Deandre Ayton, right, laugh as they answer a question as the team introduces their NBA basketball draft picks Friday, June 22, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX – Players don’t have to be friends to be successful together on the court. But it certainly can’t hurt, right?

By mere coincidence, with the selections of Arizona center Deandre Ayton and Villanova forward Mikal Bridges—the No. 1 and 10 overall picks, respectively—in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns reunited two very good friends.

It’s not a lengthy relationship. In fact, it’s barely three months old.

Ayton and Bridges first met one another on the postseason awards circuit. It was back in April in L.A. at The College Basketball Awards Presented by Wendy’s. That night Ayton won the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, while Bridges was honored with the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award.

“We really just built a relationship…going on the bus, being at the hotel, just being around each other all the time; just cracking jokes. You build that chemistry,” Ayton said Friday, as he and Bridges along with second-round picks Elie Okobo and George King were formally introduced to the media at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“(Bridges) is a cool guy. He respects my game, I respect his.”

According to Bridges, “it’s like I’ve known (Ayton) for years. And it’s crazy. I didn’t think I was ever going to be on the same team. Like, we never talked about like, ‘Oh, we might be on the same team together.’ But it’s crazy. After I got traded, I was waiting to see him. He was hyped and I was hyped, too. It was really cool.”

The seeds of an Ayton-Bridges pairing with the Suns may have been planted during the pre-draft process. When meeting with players, the Suns would ask them who they felt were some of the better prospects in the class.

“The first player that Deandre Ayton said was ‘Mikal Bridges,’” general manager Ryan McDonough told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Apparently, while Ayton and Bridges were working out at a nearby basketball court, “(Bridges) just shot the lights out…he made shot after shot after shot just like it was ridiculous,” McDonough said, referring back to his conversation with Ayton.

“That’s obviously not why we made the decision but we kept that in mind.”

With Ayton and Bridges now officially in the fold, the next step is to figure out how to best match their games with the current group of Suns players.

That task falls on first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov and his staff.

“(Ayton and Bridges) give us versatility that we can use defensively and also on the offensive part of the court, so I think we can do a lot,” he said. “By the beginning of the training camp, we’re going to study and come up with a gameplan.”

Even before training camp some of that studying will have been done.

Ayton and Bridges plus Okobo and King, among others, are all expected to play for the Suns in next month’s NBA Summer League 2018 in Las Vegas.

“You watch Summer League since you were young and I’m just so excited to play here. I mean, the number-one thing I want is to leave Vegas with a championship,” Bridges said. “I’m just excited (to) finally put the jersey on and get ready to play 5-on-5 again.”

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