Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
As expected, former Arizona star Deandre Ayton won’t have to travel far to begin his NBA career, as the Phoenix Suns made Ayton the top overall pick in the draft Thursday night.
Maybe not as expected, former Colorado star George King saw his big postseason pay off, as Phoenix also opted to select King with the draft’s next-to-last pick (No. 59 overall) late in the second round.
King becomes the 35th CU player all-time to get selected in the NBA draft and the fifth during coach Tad Boyle’s tenure. That list includes Alec Burks (first round, 2011), Andre Roberson (first round, 2013), Spencer Dinwiddie (second round, 2014), and Derrick White, who was a first-round selection of the San Antonio Spurs last year.
King’s name hadn’t shown up in most mock drafts, but his big postseason clearly made an impression with NBA scouts. During the Final Four weekend King was selected as the East team’s Most Outstanding Player at the NABC All-Star game, and later he earned all-tournament honors at the annual Portsmouth Invitational. King finished his CU career ranked second all-time in program history in 3-point percentage (.401), 14th in rebounds (681), and 18th in points (1,294).
King’s career ultimately could be a shining example for young players who don’t necessarily enjoy immediate success. After averaging just 1.5 points in 27 games off the bench as a freshman in 2013-14, King accepted a redshirt season the following year to improve his game. He emerged from the layoff to lead the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage in 2015-16 (.456) while averaging 13.6 points. King was named the league’s Most Improved Player while the Buffs reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. He averaged 11.1 points in 2016-17 and 12.9 this past season. A natural shooting guard who was tasked with manning a frontcourt spot for the youthful Buffs, King also ranked fifth in the league with 7.8 rebounds per game as a senior.
One year after sending a league-record 14 players into the 2017 NBA draft, the Pac-12 endured a quieter showing on Thursday, with Ayton’s selection leading a total of seven Pac-12 players going in the two-round, 60-player draft.
It was a tumultuous lone season at Arizona for the 7-foot-1 Ayton, who was implicated in an ESPN story linking coach Sean Miller to an alleged $100,000 payment for Ayton, though details of that report have come into question. Ayton went on to win the Pac-12’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year awards while leading the Wildcats to the league’s regular season and conference tournament championships.
Ayton was named the Pac-12 tournament MVP despite a ho-hum opening game in a one-sided win against King and the Buffaloes, going just 4-for-14 with 10 points and six rebounds as the Wildcats ended CU’s season. Ayton was a beast the rest of the way, though, going 27-for-36 in wins against UCLA and USC while collecting 64 points and 32 rebounds.
Ayton led the Pac-12 in rebounding (11.6) and ranked second in scoring (20.1). He was the ninth consecutive college freshman to go No. 1 overall and the second straight out of the Pac-12, following Washington’s Markelle Fultz in 2017. Ayton also became the first Arizona Wildcats player to go No. 1 overall.
The Pac-12 enjoyed only two other first-round selections, with Oregon freshman Troy Brown going 15th overall to the Washington Wizards and UCLA guard Aaron Holiday going to the Indiana Pacers at No. 23. Holiday edged Ayton for the Pac-12’s scoring lead (20.3) and ranked second in assists (5.8).
No Pac-12 player heard his name called again until the 16th pick of the second round, when USC’s De’Anthony Melton was selected by Houston. Melton didn’t play this past season after being implicated in the FBI’s college basketball recruiting investigation, and he averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as a sophomore during the 2016-17 season. USC forward Chimezie Metu was selected three spots later by San Antonio, and the Nuggets selected UCLA forward Thomas Welsh with the 58th overall pick before the Suns set their sights on King.