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Ayton looks forward to season restart

Bahamian professional basketball player with the Phoenix Suns, center DeAndre Ayton, is looking to play with a huge chip on his shoulder when his team heads to Orlando, Florida in a few days’ time for a chance to sneak into the playoffs.

In an interview with local Arizona media last Thursday, via Zoom, Ayton said he is excited to play.

“I know the gym we’re playing in. I’m really excited,” Ayton stated. “It’s just going to take me back to AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) – like I’m back in the AAU season.”

The restart will be at ESPN World Wide Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, and all 22 teams will be housed on the Walt Disney property in a “bubble” with very strict guidelines and protocols to follow. Each of the 22 teams will play eight seeded games for playoff positions. Ayton played a number of AAU games at the complex in Orlando, coming up as a young player.

The Suns, who sport a 26-39 win/loss record, will arrive in Orlando tomorrow. They will have a training camp before they start with a scrimmage game against the Utah Jazz on Thursday July 23. Their first regular season game will be against the Washington Wizards on July 31. The season itself will resume on July 30. The Suns sit in the 13th position in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA) – six games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (32-23).

The last time Ayton was on the court, on March 3, the big man suffered an ankle injury. He has only played in 30 games this season.

“It is an opportunity for us to show what we really got. It is a blessing as well. There is a little window to make the playoffs and make some history – that is all that is on our minds. We are young and hungry and ready to play. Quarantine gave us some time to take a break and take a load off – a breather. Now, it is back to work,” Ayton said.

The number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has been a monster on the glass this season, collecting 12 rebounds per contest. He is averaging 1.7 blocks per game and shooting 54.8 percent from the field.

Ayton said he trusts the league in restarting the season. He said that it is dangerous, but added that if players follow the rules correctly, they will be safe.

Since that ankle injury, Ayton has had sufficient time, during the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, to rehabilitate.

“The rehab was tough because of the quarantine and reaching out to people who couldn’t come see me to help me physically – trying to read certain things to help me work out my ankle when I don’t know the terminology of it,” he said.

In the face of the pandemic, Ayton said he was able to bond with his little sister.

“She was a little shy around me, not knowing me too well,” Ayton said, “filling in that blank in my personal life.”

The Bahamian opened the season on a positive note against fellow Bahamian Chavano ‘Buddy’ Hield and the Sacramento Kings in October. He helped his team take down the Kings, 124-95, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds in that contest. He was helpful on defense that night with four blocks in 33 minutes of play.

Right after that performance, Ayton served a 25-game suspension for not adhering to the NBA and NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) Anti-Drug Policy program, when he tested positive for a diuretic. He described that experience as a humbling one.

“It gave me some humility, in a way. That is why I think I enjoyed my family and them being there for me. I’m just ready to work now, ready to show them that their comforting and support didn’t get taken for granted. It really helped me. It helped me get up every day and be consistent,” Ayton said.

He thanked the Suns community and the organization for helping him take the right steps in the process to get back to the court.

The Suns’ remaining schedule at the restart will see them going up against the Dallas Mavericks (August 2), Los Angeles Clippers (August 4), the Indiana Pacers (August 6), the Miami Heat (August 8), the Oklahoma City Thunder (August 10), the Philadelphia 76ers (August 11) and the Mavericks again (August 13).

The NBA suspended its season back on March 11, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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