PHOENIX (AP) — For most of their half-century of existence, the Phoenix Suns have coveted a big-time center.
In 1969, they lost the coin flip with Milwaukee for Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and chose Neal Walk at No. 2. The closest they came was Alvan Adams, an All-Star on some very good teams. Shaquille O’Neal made a cameo appearance late in his career.
But a big, young franchise center to build around eluded them — until now.
With the first overall pick in the draft for the first time in franchise history, the Suns believe they have their man in 7-foot-1, 250-pound Deandre Ayton, whose size, athleticism and multiple skills made him the obvious No. 1 overall pick Thursday night.
He will join Devin Booker and Josh Jackson as the core of young talent that the Suns hope will pull them out of their long decline. Phoenix has missed the playoffs the last eight seasons and their 21-61 record last season was the worst in the NBA and second-worst in franchise history.
Ayton was born in the Bahamas but left at age 12, a basketball prodigy who stayed in several Southern California homes and played with various basketball programs, including a season as a teammate of Marvin Bagley III at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.
Ayton, a month shy of his 20th birthday, was the Pac-12 player of the year at Arizona last season, averaging 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. But the Wildcats made an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Buffalo. Ayton also had to tune out the noise from a federal investigation that ensnared an Arizona assistant coach.
But he emerged above the rest in the pre-draft process.
Ayton worked out for only one team, the Suns, and turned on the charm with the media afterward.
Don’t worry, Ayton assured everyone that day, “I know I’m going No. 1.”
Of course, he was right.
The Suns have the prize they coveted. But they also have the No. 16 pick (from the Goran Dragic trade) and the first choice in the second round (No. 31 overall) and the 59th pick.