Looking back on our sitdown in 2018, its difficult to ignore his messaging and his motivation.
I think it was in the pre-draft, when they were doing the lottery for the teams, I was saying Hey, you know, theres times where I just wanna go back and not have people have to leave the Caribbean to exceed their goals, he said back then.
And since then, hes quietly dedicated himself to bringing attention down to the Antilles the same attention that eluded him for far too long.
One of the major turning points for him, he recalled, was attending the Basketball Without Borders camp in Toronto in 2016. There, aside from receiving instruction and inspiration from Yao Ming, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Rui Hachimura, Frank Ntilikina, Thon Maker and others. The neophytes all hoped to make it in the NBA. Some have succeeded, many havent.
Nonetheless, the experience opened Aytons eyes, in a number of ways.
I met Yao Ming, that was the exciting part of it, Ayton recalled in 2018. I played with different players, you had kids my age, 14, 15, that were playing pro and you know their IQ and the way how they handle themselves was way more mature, and you wanna be mature too. If a kid is your age and you see his swag on and off the floor, being around players helps you develop, so I just fed off of them.
From then to now in just three short years hes come pretty far.
The road from Nassau, Bahamas to the NBA Finals has been long, but it has been as inspiring for those coming behind Ayton as its been fulfilling for him.
As a foreigner, its not gonna be easy, Ayton said of the journey. Theres a lot of trials and tribulations, you just gotta keep pushing If you really wanna succeed in your craft, you will be successful.
Ayton recalled some of the struggles he encountered along the way, and as he looked forward to becoming a force in the league, he looked back at them with a smile.
Its not easy Especially if youre coming out the Bahamas young," Ayton said. "People mess with your accent, theres all types of trolls around you, and if youre not good starting out, people are gonna doubt you and put you down.
He encountered the doubters. He heard people question his desire to be great and whether he could help anchor a championship contender. Those questions have now been answered. Emphatically.
You just gotta find some type of motivation that can give you an outlet and just have you keep going. Basketball is my outlet, so when Im not in [a good] mood, I just play basketball. Its something to do to get your mind off of [negative] things, he said back then.
For those who have been around Ayton from the beginning, his growth has been appreciable. And with the arrival of Chris Paul, he has the opportunity to play with a point guard who has a long legacy of maximizing and effectively utilizing his big man. Ayton now joins a long list of big men that includes David West, Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela all of whom enjoyed some of their most productive years playing alongside the Point God.
In a league where guards dominate the ball more than ever, perhaps we all now realize whats been missing for Ayton someone who can effectively and consistently set the table.
In his own right, though, Ayton has developed the skills necessary for a big man who wishes to succeed in today's NBA, which embraces switching on the defensive end and floor-spacing on offense. Hes unusually quick and nimble for a man his size and is a better-than-advertised midrange shooter.
As he enters next season the final year of his rookie contract win or lose in these Finals, the Suns will have an important decision to make with respect to the investment they wish to make in the big man.
Ayton, to his credit, has made it a rather easy decision.
Nonetheless, as he approaches stardom in the NBA as well as the most elusive goal, a championship, through it all, he hasnt forgotten where it all began on an outdoor court in Nassau.
Dreaming of becoming one of the few Caribbean-born NBA champions, Aytons journey is really just beginning.
Already having traveled pretty far in a number of ways thats perhaps whats most inspiring.
See the rest here:
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