Balboa City School (San Diego) basketball coach Zack Jones has been perplexed, to say the least, since when he learned that his star player DeAndre Ayton, a 7-1 center who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 60 for the Class of 2017, was transferring.
Ayton announced Tuesday that he was leaving Balboa to attend Hillcrest Prep (Phoenix). He will join 6-10 Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 overall player in the ESPN 25 for the Class of 2018, instantly giving the Bruins one of the country’s top teams.
When asked Thursday about the reason for Ayton’s departure, Jones told USA TODAY High School Sports, “That’s a really good question; I really don’t have an answer for that. I can’t speculate on it because I haven’t talked to him or his mom about it. All I know is that he’s already checked into a different school.”
Jones has not previously commented on Ayton’s departure.
According to Jones, he and his team won the Oktoberfest Tournament in Germany from Sept. 16-23. When they returned, Ayton went to go stay with his mother who was visiting in San Diego. Ayton is from the Bahamas.
“I haven’t seen him since,” Jones said. “I think at that point is when they made some other decisions.”
Jones referred to Ayton’s departure as “sudden and unexpected.”
Jones, who also serves as the school’s executive director, has previously coached NBA players such as Washington Wizards shooting guard Jared Dudley and Utah Jazz center Jeff Withey.
“Would Deandre be better off if he would have stayed with Balboa? We absolutely believe so because we care about him as a person and we care about his future.,” Jones said in a statement released late Thursday. “We believe in providing students with room to grow and discipline to stay grounded. With us, we believe he was in the best position to succeed.”
Jones said the school’s ultimate goal is “turning these young boys into young men and allowing them to be leaders in their community.” That is why, according to Jones, Ayton lived with him for the past two years. He said Ayton was part of their family and Jones and his wife had taken him in “as if he were our own son.”
“We’re not bitter or anything like that,” Jones told USA TODAY High School Sports. “I feel privileged to say that I had a hand in helping DeAndre develop to become the player and young man that he is today and I wish him nothing but the best. I want to see him win.”
Ayton led Balboa to a 17-14 record in its inaugural season, averaging 21 points, 16 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. He racked up double-doubles in 21 of 22 regular season games.
This summer he pumped in 16.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game for Supreme Court AAU (Calif.) on the Under Armour circuit.
Ayton turned heads nationally last August when he dominated the North Carolina Tar Heels in an exhibition game in the Bahamas. Ayton dropped 17 points and snagged 18 rebounds in the 84-83 upset win. He was only 16.
“We’ll definitely miss DeAndre, everyone at the school loves him,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids. We’re excited about the talented players we have here — guys like Jaylen Hands. We’re building a strong program here that’s based on strong academics, basketball and character and we’re moving on from this.”
In his statement, Jones said the goals for the program have not changed and that “we embrace the opportunity to identify more young men to thrive in their roles in our basketball program.”
“We are confident that our basketball program will continue on the upward trajectory it has established,” he said. “We are energized to capitalize on the momentum of our program as we pursue our goals as a team and as a school.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY