Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi has declared for the NBA draft but indicated his top choice is returning for his junior season.
“I am entering the NBA draft, but my number one option is still to return to Gonzaga,” Ayayi said in a school release. “I love the coaches, the school and my teammates. There is still a lot of uncertainty with what might happen to next year’s NCAA season, so entering the draft gives me a little more time to evaluate that.
“I am not hiring an agent and will work directly with Coach (Mark) Few and the GU coaching staff to make the best decision prior to the NCAA draft withdrawal date. Zag Up!”
Ayayi joins Corey Kispert as Zags testing the NBA draft situation without hiring an agent.
Ayayi doesn’t appear on most mock drafts, but he was listed as the 40th pick overall by mynbadraft.com – just ahead of Kispert at 48 and Killian Tillie at 50 – and No. 43 by tankathon.com.
The 6-foot-5 Ayayi is No. 67 in CBSsports.com’s top 75 prospects with Petrusev at 65 and Kispert at 63. Ayayi wasn’t listed in ESPN.com’s top 100.
The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25, but the date could be moved back. The deadline for players to remove their name from consideration is June 3.
Early-entry players might not get a chance to audition for NBA teams with the league on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Individual workouts aren’t permitted. NBA executives can conduct virtual interviews with prospects.
Ayayi became a key contributor as a sophomore. The Frenchman moved into the starting lineup in early December. He was one of six Zags to average double figures in scoring (10.6) and was second in rebounds (6.3) and assists (3.2). He was All-West Coast Conference honorable mention.
Ayayi made 48.3% of his field-goal attempts, including 34.5% behind the 3-point line, and led the team at 82.5% at the free-throw line. Ayayi scored in double figures 20 times and posted double-doubles against Arkansas Pine Bluff (10 points and 13 rebounds), Southern Miss (21 and 12) and North Carolina (11 and 10).
Ayayi averaged 15.5 points and eight rebounds while earning WCC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
“I think he should come back,” ESPN analyst Sean Farnham said of Ayayi in late February. “I want to see him become more consistent from outside. He’s a good shooter, but I want to see him get to an elite-level shooter because for him to find a role at the next level he has to be a 3-and-D (defend) guy.”
Ayayi was 17 years old when he arrived at Gonzaga. He has put in considerable effort to build up his body and improve his skill set. He redshirted his first year and saw limited minutes the ensuing season as a reserve guard.
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