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Deandre Ayton now part of ‘grown-man’s game’ with Phoenix Suns

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX – It didn’t take Deandre Ayton long to learn that the NBA is quite different from college. Like the first practice.

“Now I’m playing against some competition. We scratching each other, fighting each other,” he said. “Now I know how this NBA works. It’s a grown-man’s game, for sure. And you know, it fits me because I’m throwing it right back at them.”

And that was just after a Summer League practice.

“It’s fun,” Ayton said Wednesday. “Everybody is loud and talkative. The communication, not just saying ‘ball’, ‘ball’, ‘ball’. We’re actually communicating. I just love the atmosphere.”

Ayton is the headliner on the Phoenix Suns roster for the upcoming NBA Summer League 2018 in Las Vegas.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the 7-foot-1 Ayton.

The first overall pick in last month’s draft, and first-ever No. 1 pick in Suns franchise history, Ayton hasn’t had much time to himself.

This week Ayton, along with fellow draft picks Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo and George King plus returning Suns players Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, Shaquille Harrison, Davon Reed and Alec Peters, are participating in a four-day mini-camp at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

And Ayton is already turning heads.

“Man, he catches everything around the rim. I know we don’t have any other seven-footers out here but I’m excited to just see him continue to play. The game just comes so easy to him,” said guard Brandon Knight, who has been practicing with the group.

“He’s very, very talented so once he puts together that talent with the God-given athleticism (and) the size that he has, it could be very scary. It could be scary for other people (but) exciting for us.”

A back issue kept Ayton off the court for a couple of practices earlier in the week.

“They said I was tight in my hips so they had to loosen up my back,” he said.

Now he’s “perfectly fine” and is expected to play on Friday when the Suns open Summer League against Dallas.

Then on Saturday the Suns play Sacramento and No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III.

Ayton and Bagley III were high school teammates, albeit briefly, at Phoenix’s Hillcrest Prep.

“Me and him are going to smile at each other. We’re just going to laugh. I think we’re going to laugh for a little bit and then it’s going to get down to business once we get a jump ball,” Ayton said. “That’s doing to be a competitive game. That’s going to be a fun game. Very intense.”

Strictly a center

In his one season in college, Ayton played mostly power forward for Arizona. It’s a position he’s not expected to play with the Suns.

“He’ll never be a power forward in this league. He’s going to be one of the most dominant centers in this league. That’s how we see him. That’s how we’re going to build him,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said. “His feel for the game, passing skills, all this stuff is going to make him be a better player. Not that many bigs can do and has a package that he has. I don’t see him as a power forward, which is a compliment to him. It’s not really taking away anything from his talent.”

It’s got to be the shoes

While speaking to the media on Wednesday, Ayton held his shoes, his new Puma-brand shoes.

“They’re very comfortable. They’re classy. They’re very colorful as you can tell,” he said, referring to the bold color scheme.

Wearing Pumas will be a change for Ayton. Arizona was a Nike school.

“They laughed, obviously. They laughed. They were like, ‘Puma?’ ‘What is Puma?’” Ayton said, when asked about the reaction from friends. “At the end of the day, they think it’s cool. It’s new. It’s very different. Everybody loves different.”

Meeting ‘The GOAT’

On Tuesday, Ayton was working out at the arena when he was approached by Mercury guard Diana Taurasi.

“I was freaking out,” he said. “She said, ‘hello’, ‘great to have you’. I was like star-struck. I was speechless. She’s the Michael Jordan of the WNBA.”

Asked who would win a 1-on-1 matchup between the two, Ayton smiled.

“Don’t show her this footage, but me,” he said.

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