Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi declares for NBA draft

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi declared for the NBA draft Friday and will skip his senior season.

The school said Ayayi will hire an agent and pursue a professional career.

“My four years at Gonzaga have been unforgettable and some of the most special times in my life,” Ayayi said in a news release. “I’m honored to be a Zag forever.”

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Ayayi was a finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award this season. He averaged 12 points per game while shooting 57.5% from the field. The French native’s 6.8 rebounds per game were second on the team as Gonzaga advanced to the NCAA title game, where the Bulldogs lost to Baylor.

Ayayi recorded the first triple-double in program history in a win at Portland on Jan. 9. He scored all 12 of his points in the first half, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out a career-high 14 assists. His 18 rebounds against Iowa were the most by a Bulldog guard since the program moved to Division I in 1958-59.

Each year of his college basketball career, Ayayi’s scoring average and 3-point shooting percentage increased. As he became more comfortable, Ayayi developed into a crucial starter whose effort in the historic contest against UCLA won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

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Gonzaga has a team full of potential NBA players with various draft projections cast upon them. Though Ayayi isn’t projected to go as high as his backcourt teammate, Jalen Suggs, Ayayi could work himself into late-first round conversations if he impresses during workouts and at the combine.

Listen at 6-foot-5, Ayayi can slot in as a shooting guard or undersized small forward at the next level, providing a bit of a scoring burst and an unconventional approach to the game. He’s a talented player, but he’ll be confined to a distinct role in the NBA unless he drastically improves his ball-handling and shooting off the dribble.