Former University of Illinois point guard Ayo Dosunmu will go down as one of the most impactful players in the history of Illinois basketball. What one kid from Chicago did for his state university is truly remarkable.
This time, we are not debating how much you liked former players such as Ken Norman, Kenny Battle, Stephen Bardo, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty, Kiwane Garris, Cory Bradford, Brian Cook, Deron Williams, Dee Brown or Deon Thomas, to name a few. None of them single-handedly took over a program that was in the basement and headed toward the toilet.
Coming out of Morgan Park High School in Chicago in 2018, Dosunmu was a five-star recruit and ranked 30th overall by college scouts. He received 21 offers from schools such as Cincinnati, Florida State, Iowa State, Kansas, Marquette, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest. On October 19, 2017, at the Jordan Brand Center, Dosunmu held a news conference to announce his college destination: “I will continue my college basketball career at the University of Illinois,” he told those of us in attendance.
“Because it’s my state school. Why not Illinois? I loved my visit when I went down there, the coaches showed me how I could help impact the program. The fans were great; they followed me around shouting my name; they came to watch me workout. It just felt right. I want to help bring Illinois back to where they belong,” Dosunmu said.
The Chicago native made it cool to go to Illinois again despite other top players across the state quickly leaving.
At Illinois, Dosunmu did just about everything he predicted he would get accomplished. He ended a six-year NCAA Tournament drought, was first team All-Big Ten Conference two years in a row, was the only Illinois basketball player ever to be named a consensus first team All-American and helped the Illini receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Dosunmu’s talent influenced All-American center Kofi Cockburn to attend Illinois.
“I like the school, the coaches recruited pretty hard and fans at Illinois are great, but getting to play with someone like Ayo would be a dream come true; he’s a winner, and he’s a great passer,” Cockburn said, explaining why he picked Illinois.
Ayo's influence is felt across the campus.
New head football coach Bret Bielema said, “We are going to recruit our state very hard; it won’t just be lip service. We tell recruits to look at Ayo Dosunmu and what he was able to accomplish by staying home. Be that guy — it can be done.”
What you hear and see from Dosunmu is what you get. He is a first-class young man and has a heart of gold. During his tenure at Illinois, you never heard a negative peep out of this kid except for one game when he came out sitting on the bench. Naturally, I thought he was sick, but it turned out he was late for a meeting. Not only did he sit, but a source told me that Dosunmu felt that was not enough because there was no reason for it, and it is a lesson he needed to learn. Sorry, but in today’s world, we do not have enough kids like that.
Potential basketball recruit, Jeremy Fears Jr. (2023) from Joliet, Ill., now playing at La Lumiere in Indiana, is currently ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the state of Indiana by 24/7 Sports. He is in awe of Illinois.
“Man, it would be great to play for Illinois; it’s my home state. I watched Ayo every chance I got. He plays the game exactly the way I do; he pushes it, he always tried to beat the defense down the court," Fears said. "Coach (Brad) Underwood let him run the show. I watched how he talked to Ayo and now Andre Curbelo, has now caught my full attention."
The junior-to-be has offers from some of the nation’s best. The Indiana Hoosiers are trying hard to convince him, as are several other big time programs.
Fears and his family watched the NBA draft. They were shocked, like most of Illini nation, that Ayo went 38th to the Chicago Bulls.
The NBA is a different animal in what they look for. I can give plenty of examples where the so-called experts flat out make mistakes. Chasson Randle, Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker. Now, add Dosunmu to that list. The Illini legend will not complain, it is motivation for him. Each NBA Summer League game he got better and better, just like he did in high school and college.
One NBA scout told me, “Ayo is a winner. They can look and try to find flaws in his game, but Ayo is going to make teams pay for not picking him. I’m not saying he’s going to be an All-Star, or he won’t spend time in the G-League for a short stint, but he’s going to be in the NBA for a long time.”
Dosunmu told Sports Chicago, “I know I’m a first-round talent. But you can’t (ever know) what God had planned for you. And God wanted me to play for my city, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m embracing it. I’m grateful,” Dosunmu said on being picked 38th.
I can assure you that the Chicago Bulls organization, if it does things right, will sell a lot more tickets and plenty of jerseys because of Dosunmu.
If any kid in America deserves it, it is Ayo Dosunmu.