Best College Athlete 2018 | Deandre Ayton | Fun & Games | Phoenix

We're going to trust Deandre Ayton's denial of receiving a $100,000 recruitment bonus from the University of Arizona. He seems like an honorable young man. And even if he did get the cash, the product of Phoenix's Hillcrest Prep Academy earned every penny of it with his performance on the basketball court during his one season with the Wildcats. The 7-foot freshman averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, and almost two blocked shots per game. He also shot 61.2 percent from the field as he earned first-team All-America and Pac-12 Player of the Year honors in 2018. Of course, we foreshadowed all this last year by naming him the Best Teenage Athlete Destined to Become a Millionaire. Ayton was then selected by the Phoenix Suns with their first-ever No. 1 pick in the NBA. When that happened, he said, "I saw the reaction on my mom's face and it was just priceless." Well, actually, it was worth at least $8 million, his first-year salary, plus as much as a couple of hundred million for his shoe deal with Puma.

These days, the Diamondbacks present outfielder David Peralta as something of a fashion icon. Before the season, they featured him in a series of GQ-like photos. He was also the model for the team's Hawaiian shirt giveaway for Father's Day. He even has his own T-shirt line, The Freight Train. But seven years ago, the only new clothes he could afford were emblazoned with the Golden Arches. In 2011, he had been out of baseball for almost two years after two shoulder surgeries ended his career as a left-handed pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Undaunted, he was determined to reinvent himself as a hitter and outfielder. He had a tryout with an independent league team in Texas, but he lived in Florida and couldn't afford the trip. He took a job working double shifts at McDonald's to finance his journey, and the rest is one of baseball's great Cinderella stories. He made the Diamondbacks as a reserve in 2014, batted over .300 the next season, and in 2018 the 31-year-old is having a breakout season, among the team leaders in home runs, RBI, hits, batting average, and OPS. Along the way, he became a husband and a father — he and his wife, Jordan, have a 1-year-old daughter, Sofia, which means he'll soon be ordering Happy Meals for his little girl instead of serving them.

Never mind that Sports Illustrated quoted FBI wiretaps of a phone conversation between University of Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller and an agent discussing a $100,000 payment to top recruit Deandre Ayton. Never mind that a UA assistant already had been fired after he was charged by the feds with bribery and fraud. And never mind that another star player was suspended for using drugs. Miller kept his job by blaming the messenger. "I'm outraged by the media statements that have been made and the acceptance by many that these statements were true," Miller said in a fiery press conference in late February. (Sports Illustrated stood by its story, FYI.) But if Miller felt vindicated, maybe the basketball gods thought otherwise. The heavily favored Wildcats lost their first game in the NCAA tournament, 89-68, to the University of Buffalo, a 13 seed. And just minutes after the stunning defeat, Ayton, who denied receiving the payment, announced he was leaving UA for the NBA, where he will make $100,000 for each game of his rookie season. Guess karma's not a bitch for everyone.

The Valley is rife with new sports coaches, a sure sign that our teams haven't been playing very well. Arizona State University basketball coach Bobby Hurley is the dean of the major-sports coaches after completing just his third (and first winning) season with the Sun Devils. Torey Lovullo is in his second season as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rick Tocchet just finished his first season as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes with a last-place finish in the NHL's Western Conference. The Cardinals have just gotten started for their new head coach, Steve Wilks, and the Suns are about three weeks away from their debut under Igor Kokoskov. ASU, meanwhile, shocked the college football world by upsetting Michigan State University in new head football coach Herm Edwards' second game. Edwards was hired right off the set of ESPN after not having coached a college game in some 25 years. We have to give him this award not only for the Sun Devils' hot start, but for winning the battle of the press conferences. He dazzled the media in his introductory presser with quotes like this: "I'm on the train. And I'm gonna ride it. I will ride this train until it stops. It's not gonna stop ... If you wanna board on a little bit later, we got a seat for you. Might not be comfortable, but you'll have a seat." Well, punch our tickets.

After watching 170 defeats over the past three seasons, including 61 this past year, Phoenix Suns fans were finally cheering inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix — twice, in fact. In May, thousands of fans filled the arena to watch the team win the lottery for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft for the first time in franchise history. Then on June 21, they packed the place again, this time to watch the actual draft. They erupted when the Suns selected sort of a hometown kid, 7-foot Deandre Ayton, a Jamaican who played high school ball at the Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix, then took his talents to Tucson, where he earned All-America honors in his one season at the University of Arizona. It was reminiscent of the scene in Cleveland in 2003 when the Cavaliers selected a local kid with their No. 1 pick: LeBron James. Certainly, selecting Ayton made Suns fans happy. "Amazing, I think it'll be a game changer," season-ticket holder Erica Volini told the Arizona Republic. "Line him up with (Devin) Booker and (Josh) Jackson, I think we'll have a pretty good shot of getting into the playoffs."

Let's face it, there is no such thing as a bad spring training experience here — the fact that you're at a Cactus League game means you're off work, you're watching baseball, and you're enjoying the best of Arizona's weather. We've visited all of the Valley's 10 stadiums, and you're always closer to the action and paying less money than at a regular season major league game. We chose Scottsdale Stadium as our favorite for its other assets. There's nothing remarkable about the facility itself, other than the view of Camelback Mountain, the 200 trees that create an oasis of shade, and the garlic fries. In fact, the stadium, built in 1992, is about to undergo a much-needed $50-million modernization. But it's where Scottsdale Stadium is located, in Old Town, that makes the total experience the most enjoyable. It's the only Cactus League facility in an urban setting, within walking distance of Scottsdale's bottomless pitcher of bars, restaurants, and shopping outlets. Parking near the stadium can be a hassle, but the Scottsdale Trolley is always available during the season. So remember, the games inside are just exhibitions. But in Scottsdale, as Anthony Castrovince wrote for Sports on Earth, "the pregame and postgame atmosphere in the nearby bars and restaurants provides a real sense of occasion." We'll drink to that.

Maybe your landlord doesn't allow pets, or your partner is allergic. Maybe you have a cat, but you just want to hang out with a whole bunch at once. Whatever your situation, La Gattara is the spot to find temporary feline companionship. The brightly colored hangout is stocked with what you need to be comfortable — think shag rugs and beanbag chairs — plus a host of sweet kitties. You can wait for them to come to you, or you can introduce yourself to one. La Gattara also holds events like cat yoga, cat-themed paint nights, and other fun happenings. And if you really make a connection with one cat in particular, we've got good news: All the cats at La Gattara are adoptable, so feel free to turn a one-time meeting into a lasting relationship.

Ever wanted to make like Jimi Hendrix and kiss the sky? House of Cirque can help you slip the surly bonds of the earth with their high-flying stilt classes. The performance-art troupe hosts circus art classes and workshops where they teach skills like fire-eating and stilt-walking. Headed by Crystal Cruz, the instructors are human giraffes who are skilled at teaching stilt-virgins how to stand on their own two feet. Starting off with classes in a mirrored living room (complete with stripper pole for added balance), stilt classes quickly move outdoors into the streets and parks of downtown Phoenix. Padding and stilts are provided. And when the troupe isn't teaching stilting, they're doing it: They regularly show up to stilt at parades around town, as well as host stilt variety shows and circus events at venues like Alwun House and Unexpected Gallery. They even stilt onstage for the annual All Souls Procession in Tucson, standing on stilts that look as tall as lampposts.

Here's one for the "What could possibly go wrong?" category: Tempe now has its very own ax-throwing range. Actually, it's pretty fun: You get a group of 18-or-older friends together (or you can just come by yourself), and after a short briefing on proper throwing techniques, you're ready to let out your inner lumberjack. It's kind of like a shooting range, with wooden board with bullseyes rather than paper targets. And actually, it's pretty low-risk: There are strict safety rules that every participant must follow (for example, no open-toed shoes). You're not allowed to BYOA (bring your own ax), but after 4 p.m., you can BYOB. Beer and axes: what a magical combination.

When a city puts up a sign like "Use Caution, Active Bees in Area," the bee-sensitive among us (as in most people) tend to go on yellow alert. These signs, which you can find at at Camelback Mountain, shouldn't be taken lightly. Killer bees live up to their name in metro Phoenix, where they've nailed several young hikers in local mountain parks. As recently as 2016, a 23-year-old man hiking Maricopa County's Usery Park was stung to death. But as usual, Camelback Mountain, the popular and over-used landmark in east Phoenix, wins out for the craziest tragedies. In 2004, and again in 2012, young men climbing the cliffs in Echo Canyon slipped and fell in the panicky minutes after a swarming attack began. Another climber in 2009 received 120 stings. Hikers on the main trails aren't usually the victims. But they could be. We've got bees on the brain because this year we heard bees while hiking Echo Canyon. No bees were in sight, but their frightful sound came suddenly, airplane-loud. A swarm was on the move. Hike or climb to Camelback's less-visited spots, and you just might find it.

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