by RENALDO DORSETT

Projected to be the top player for the class of 2017 by nearly every recruiting service in the United States, Bahamian basketball phenom DeAndre Ayton is meeting early expectations as he begins his sophomore season in high school.

In his first season with the varsity squad, the nearly 7’0 foot tall, 220-pound Ayton is averaging 22 points per game thus far with Balboa City School Force in San Diego, California.The force opened the season last weekend at the Bi-Nacional Invitational Tournament in Tiujana, Mexico.

Under the varsity spotlight, Ayton was one of the driving factors to lead the Force to a pair of convincing wins at the tournament by an average margin of 29.5 points per game.In the season opener, Ayton scored a game high 25 points to lead Balboa City to a 92-63 win over Cetys University Greyhounds.The Force blew open a 13-point game by outscoring their opponents 28-12 in the final quarter.In game two, Ayton scored 19 points and the Force used a 30-point first quarter en route to a dominating win over Autonomous University of Baja California, 92-63.

The Force is scheduled to play their first game of the season on US soil November 22 when they face Simply Fundamental in a non-conference matchup in Las Vegas, Nevada.The following weekend they will participate in the Thanksgiving Roundball Classic.

UNCvProvidenceStorm51

Ayton is still well away from his NCAA decision, but every elite programme in America is calling

Ayton,16, who did not play high school basketball as a freshman, burst onto the scene at the EYBL U-16 circuit with California Supreme before officially suiting up for Balboa City.According to its website, the Balboa City School is geared toward cultivating gifted student-athletes.“Designed for an individualised educational experience – which includes rigorous athletic training and serious college preparatory classes – the Force Sports programme is highly effective in mentoring student-athletes and teaching them the value of a modern, relevant education. Balboa City School, home of the programme, is international in scope, attracting students from all over the world.”

ESPN recruiting ranks Ayton as the No.1 overall prospect in his class with a player grade of 98/100 and he also has a featured profile on NBADraft.net.According to the ESPN scouting report: “Ayton is a physical specimen with a Kevin Garnett frame already. He has very long arms and broad shoulders and he is quite bouncy. He can step out and nail the 17-foot jump shot and he finishes with force and fluidity in transition.”

The Bahamian public got a firsthand view of Ayton this summer when he played with the Providence Storms select squad at the Bahamas Basketball Federation’s Summer of Thunder.Ayton’s standout performance came against the Associated Press No.6 ranked NCAA team, the North Carolina Tar Heels.Ayton finished with 17 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Storms to a shocking 84-83 win over the Tar Heels. He outrebounded projected 2015 lottery pick Justin Jackson (Freshman: 19-years-old, 6’8” 190 lbs), UNC’s top returning rebounder and projected first round pick Brice Johnson (Junior: 20-years-old, 6’9” 210 lbs) and Kennedy Meeks (Sophomore: 6’9” 280 lbs).JP Tokoto led the Tar Heels with nine boards, exactly half of Ayton’s total.

Ayton has shot up the recruiting ranks and has become the most sought after by every major division I NCAA programme.Despite all that being thrown at a teenager from the Bahamas, Ayton remains grounded.“I just put God first in everything that I do,” he said following the win over UNC. “I try not to get big headed and to slow everything down. I’m young, but it’s good for us to start from young and build our game up through the young kids here. That’s the only way we will get better.”

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