2022 Playoffs: West Semifinal | Suns (1) vs. Mavericks (4)

How the bond between Deandre and Andrea Ayton shaped path for Suns’ star

Andrea Ayton continues to encourage her son, just as she has done ever since he was a young boy growing up in the Bahamas.

Deandre embraces his mother, Andrea, after being selected No. 1 overall by the Suns in the 2018 Draft.

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More errands awaited. So did the last-minute packing. But the excitement in Andrea Ayton’s voice grew as she talked about awaiting something both familiar and unique.

The familiar? Just like she has for most of Deandre Ayton’s games, Andrea will attend Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks on Sunday (3:30 ET, ESPN) so she can see her son play.

The unique? Deandre will play in front of his mom on Mother’s Day for the first time in his four-year NBA career.

“I think my presence there is very important,” Andrea told NBA.com. “I’ll enjoy the game so much.”

Andrea also presumes she will enjoy the subsequent Mother’s Day celebration. She admitted uncertainty on how Deandre plans to honor her for Mother’s Day. But mused that her son “always has a plan.”

Regardless of whatever plans unfold, it seems likely that Deandre and Andrea will begin and end Mother’s Day with a prayer, just as the mother-son duo did so growing up in Nassau, Bahamas. At age 23, Deandre has continued the ritual with his mother as he has become one of the NBA’s emerging young stars.

“That is what really brought us through every situation,” Andrea said.  “Deandre gets a prayer from me every day, encouraging him when he’s on the road. That’s what really brings us closer with everything we’ve been through with prayer and God.”

How Deandre Ayton’s mother shaped him

Perhaps that prayer helps Deandre in numerous ways on Mother’s Day. Maybe it inspires the Suns’ star to come out with a dominant performance to help Phoenix extend its series lead against Dallas. Maybe it further reminds Deandre of the bond he has cemented with his mother.

Well before Deandre blossomed into a promising young NBA player, his mother helped him with both staying grounded and feeling empowered.

Both Deandre’s mom and stepfather (Alvin) forbid him from going to nearby playgrounds as a young child in hopes to keep him safe. Instead, Alvin and Deandre built a hoop and installed it in the driveway outside their two-bedroom home for him to play with his two brothers (Edward Jr, Andrew) and two sisters (Tiann, Serenity). Andrea enrolled Deandre at a church youth basketball camp. And Andrea later enrolled Deandre at the Jeff Rogers basketball camp, the Bahamas’ premier summer basketball program, in hopes of progressing his skillset.

At first, Deandre did not enjoy the experience. At nine years old, he had already experienced a relative growth spurt and did not find much fulfillment in dominating against smaller kids. So much that Andrea recalled Deandre lamenting, “Mommy; I’m a big boy and I’m playing with babies.”

Andrea allowed Deandre to quit. That is until an 11-year-old Deandre struggled to fit his head underneath a door on his way to church. The pastor stopped his sermon and remarked to the congregation about Ayton, “That is a walking miracle.”

After interpreting that moment as divine intervention, Andrea then intervened in hopes Deandre would fulfill his prophecy. She encouraged Deandre to reenroll at the Jeff Rogers camp.

Deandre obliged and earned $100 after working with his stepfather as a plumber so he could pay for camp. It became a worthy investment.

From the streets of Bahamas to NBA star 

At 12 years old, Deandre showed off both his height and dunking skills against even older campers. Mychal Thompson, a former NBA center that was also born in the Bahamas, took notice. So did various basketball evaluators.

Deandre’s game sparked interest from Texas and California-based prep schools. But Andrea found the possibilities in Texas unappealing due to the lack of host families that had a child around Deandre’s age. And so he committed to Balboa City School in San Diego after finding a host family and landing a scholarship.

But soon after, Andrea became disappointed with Deandre’s time at Balboa City School. Though she politically declined to share specifics, Andrea acknowledged “a problem occurred.”

“Bahamian people told me to come and take him, and that something is happening,” Andrea said. “I tried to call and investigate it, and I wasn’t getting anything concrete. They’re not saying anything. They’re saying that everything was okay. So I went there and tried to deal with it fairly.”

After struggling to find other schools in California, Deandre eventually transferred to Hillcrest Prep in Gilbert, Arizona for his junior season. Meanwhile, Andrea moved to Phoenix and split her time there as well as in the Bahamas. After leading Hillcrest Prep to a national championship during his senior season, Ayton landed a scholarship at the University of Arizona where he set a school and PAC-12 record for most double-doubles (25) along with conference Player of the Year honors.

Ayton was selected by the Suns as the overall No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Shortly afterward, Deandre bought her mom a house.

“Deandre is full of surprises,” Andrea said. “When I got a beautiful home, our dreams came true. It was a family blessing.”

Even with his NBA career underway, Andrea remains just as involved with her son. Rarely does a day go by that the devoted mother does not offer her son some words of wisdom. She described herself as a “nag” that “is always in his ear.”

Both longtime friends and casual acquaintances often seek Deandre for favors. So, Andrea often tells him, “if your friends need help, help them. But you don’t have to bring everybody around.” Deandre has played in a competitive field filled with mixed motives among players, coaches and executives. She has implored him, “If you do good, you do yourself good.” And both in Phoenix and on the road, Andrea often joins her son for prayer.

“Only God can take us through some situations,” Andrea said. “That’s all I depend on. I have my children. I have my husband here. I have very close friends back home in the Bahamas. When situations are going on, that is my weapon. That is what we fight through.”

That mindset helped Deandre navigate various speedbumps throughout his four-year career. Although the Suns remained intrigued with his talent, they conceded an initial learning curve with adapting to the NBA. Ayton faced a 25-game suspension to open the 2019-20 season for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug program. And despite becoming a key reason for the Suns advancing to last year’s NBA Finals, the Suns declined to grant him a max extension to open the 2021-22 season.

Though Andrea did not share specifically how she guided Deandre through those different circumstances, the Suns have lauded Deandre for his play and attitude. That partly reflects his mother’s touch.

“We are strong, praying people. When things like that arise, we pray. We hold up our head high,” Andrea said. “We just wait for the season to finish and we’ll see what happens. But we’re focusing on basketball now until we reach where we’re supposed to reach. Whatever comes, we are happy.”

No surprise then that the mother-son duo seemed most happy when the two stood on stage together last December at an awards banquet. It was there Deandre presented her mom with the “My Mom, My Hero” award for her help with “Helping Hands for Single Moms,” a non-profit in the Valley that helps low-income mothers with college opportunities and financial assistance. After hosting mothers and their kids with lunch and gifts, Andrea plans to teach cooking classes with the organization.

“Andrea Ayton is my rock and motivation,” Deandre said at the event. “She really helped me be the man I am today. And I wouldn’t be anywhere without her and God.”

Perhaps Deandre shares a similar message to Andrea this Mother’s Day. Perhaps Deandre makes Andrea laugh with the jokes and imitations he often likes to share with her. And perhaps the two pray together as they often do.

“I’m happy with the man and the leader that Deandre has become,” Andrea said. “I’m very proud of him. I’m a proud mother, and we are a proud family. We’re just going to pray for him to reach the limit.”

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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