By Frank Burlison, Nothing But Net Magazine Senior Writer
Well, it only seems as if Eric Ayala from IMG Academy (FL) has been playing high school basketball since sometime in the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Ranked No. 70 in the Class of 2018 by Nothing But Net Magazine, the 6-foot-4 guard from Putnam Science Academy (CT) before a recent transfer to the high-powered program in Florida, appeared on a “national stage” initially in 2013.
That was just a couple of months before playing his first “real” high school game as a freshman at the Sanford School (Wilmington, NC) as a part of the Pangos All-East Frosh/Soph Camp at the RiverWinds Center in Thorofare, NJ, just outside of Philadelphia.
And he showed that he was on the same level as then-sophomores Bryce Aiken (now into his sophomore year at Harvard) and Lamar Stevens (Penn State), as well as then-freshmen Quade Green (now a freshman at Kentucky) and Trevon Duval (Duke), who were McDonald’s All-American point guards last spring.
After a strong freshman season, Ayala was back the following October for another round of Pangos Frosh/Soph Camp action, where he was picked to play in the Top 25 All-Star game that also included now-college freshmen Green, Isaiah Washington (Minnesota) and Keith Williams (Cincinnati).
The summer of 2015 found Ayala playing for the Puerto Rico National Junior Team (averaging 19.6 points as his team went 2-3 in a FIBA tournament) – and “reclassifying” for a repeat sophomore year, this time after transferring to the school in Connecticut.
A key part-time starter during the spring and summer of 2016 for the WE-R1 17U team that won the Under Armour championship, Ayala headed west for the crème de la crème of all Pangos’ events, the All-American Camp, where he was picked to play in the Top 50 All-Star game.
That camp was perhaps the strongest in its history in terms of backcourt depth, with Quade Green, Trevon Duval, Isaiah Washington and Trae Young (like Green and Duval, a McDonald’s All-American last spring; he’s now at the University of Oklahoma).
After his junior season at Putnam Science Academy, and with Duval having exhausted his grassroots circuit eligibility, Ayala got the bulk of time at the point for WE-R1 this past spring and helped it win another UA title in July.
That came about a month after his return trip to Southern California for the Pangos All-American Camp, where he stepped it up well enough to earn a spot in the Top 25 All-Star contest the second time around. Three days at event was the perfect vehicle for Ayala to show why he’s among the very best of the “fifth-year” guards on the prep landscape.
There are quicker and flashier, and better jump shooting “point guard-types” around.
But there aren’t many who combine his size, strength, savvy and ability to never be rushed or slowed down by defenses as he almost always finds ways to play at the pace he needs to run his team’s offense or get into the lane.
One of the hottest bits of speculation throughout last season was that Ayala might once again “reclassify” (in reality, return to his original Class of 2017 standing) and sign with a high-level program in hot pursuit of a guard.
He told USA Today recently (after making his transfer to IMG Academy public) that he gave consideration to joining the Ohio State or Oregon programs for the coming season.
But, he also told the publication, he decided to spend what could have been his freshman season where Duval played last season and will try to sort from within a list of nine possible college destinations – Arizona, Georgetown, Indiana, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Ohio State, Oregon and Syracuse
By then, of course, he will have finally bid adieu to prep school and all of those Pangos’ events and get off with college life.
(Photo credit: Scott Kurtz)