Gonzaga junior guard Joel Ayayi has declared for the NBA Draft and plans to sign with an agent as he pursues a professional career.
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound Ayayi declared for the draft last year before deciding to return to Gonzaga. It was generally expected that Ayayi would submit his name again after the Zags’ 31-1 season and remain in the draft this time.
“After discussing with my family, I’ve decided to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA,” Ayayi said in a GU release. “My four years at Gonzaga have been unforgettable and some of the most special times in my life. I’d like to thank everyone at GU, especially the coaching staff, and all of my teammates that have become brothers to me.
“To all of Zag Nation and the people of Spokane, thank you for all of the love and support. You will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m honored to be a Zag forever.”
The native of Bordeaux, France, came to Gonzaga as a skinny 17-year-old and developed into one of the program’s most reliable players over the last two seasons. He became a fan favorite with his ability to rebound, pass and score off cuts to the basket without having to dominate the ball.
“I’m so happy for Joel as he takes the next step in his career,” coach Mark Few said. “He has had a huge impact on our program with his steady improvement from year to year and his ability to make winning plays in so many different ways. His leadership every day, enthusiasm, and ability to be such a great teammate is what I will always remember.”
Ayayi is one of four Zags that could potentially declare for the draft. Senior Corey Kispert technically could return with the NCAA granting players an extra year of eligibility but he’s considered a first-round pick and likely a lottery selection (top 14).
Point guard Jalen Suggs is expected to become the program’s second one-and-done freshman, joining Zach Collins in 2017. Suggs is projected as a top five pick and has a chance at being the No. 1 selection. Junior guard Andrew Nembhard submitted his name for the draft twice when he was at Florida. Sophomore forward Drew Timme led the team in scoring (19.0).
Ayayi wasn’t listed in ESPN’s latest two-round mock draft, but he was projected 44th overall to Boston by Yahoo! Sports and 39th to Chicago by Bleacher Report.
Ayayi’s exit opens up a starting position. Hunter Sallis, a 6-5 guard ranked in the top 10 in the 2021 class, is a probable starter. Rising sophomores Julian Strawther, a 6-7 wing who averaged 7.6 minutes this season, and 6-3 Dominick Harris, who averaged 7.2 minutes this season, are also candidates to start.
Ayayi redshirted his first year at Gonzaga and saw limited playing time in 2019. He moved into the starting lineup 10 games into the 2020 season. In his second start, he hit a clutch 3-pointer late in the Zags’ 83-76 road win over Washington. He was named MVP of the 2020 WCC Tournament.
Ayayi averaged 12.0 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior. He posted the first triple-double in program history with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists against Portland. He was a finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award.
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