CHAMPAIGN — There was a time when Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood hoped he could unveil a two-player recruiting class Wednesday. But he practically fell over his own words gushing about the one player who actually did sign.
That one player is Ayo Dosunmu, a 6-5 point guard from Class 3A state champion Chicago Morgan Park High School, who Underwood describes as an uber-talented difference maker.
“It’s not a good day, it’s a great day in Illini basketball history,” Underwood said. “The thing I like the most about him is his competitive drive to not be good, but to be great.”
Underwood said current freshman and reigning Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith from Edwardsville helped recruit Dosunmu. And he predicted Dosunmu will help recruit others to Illinois.
“He’s a guy who has tremendous charisma, who has a personality and a way about him that is very contagious,” Underwood said. “He has natural leadership instincts. Nationally, he has a name that everyone recognizes. Now we get to put our name next to his.
“Ayo and Mark hit it off. Great players want to play with great players. They are intrigued by that. And they both have tremendous pride in their state. That is so evident. It was important for Ayo to come to the University of Illinois.”
As a junior, Dosunmu averaged 22 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals for Morgan Park. He is the highest-ranked guard to sign with the Illini since 2001, when Dee Brown committed. Dosunmu is ranked No. 20 nationally by Rivals.
Brown wore uniform No. 11. Dosunmu, who said Brown is his favorite Illini player, wears No. 11 on all of his photos wearing Illini gear. However, current Illini freshman Gregory Eboigbodin wears No. 11.
So who wears it next season?
Assistant coach Chin Coleman said Dosunmu and Eboigbodin will play 1-on-1 for the right to wear the jersey, with a two-dribble limit.
Coleman said that the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Eboigbodin would have an unfair advantage if they let him dribble five or six times in order to back Dosunmu down to the basket.
Dosunmu’s top high school scoring game is 51 points. He did that in the season opener Nov. 27, 2016, against Chicago Bowen.
Underwood said Dosunmu is an ideal match for his style of play.
“It was evident from the first time I watched him that he was a perfect fit for a big piece in our puzzle,” Underwood said. “He has size and exceptional speed. At any time he can go get his own shot. He is a blur in transition. He has an uncanny ability to make the right pass.”
Underwood still has two unused scholarships, and he said he will likely take those into the spring searching for two more pieces to the puzzle.
“We will add a shooter, and we need to add another (player with) size. There are a lot of options out there,” he said mentioning fifth-year transfers, junior college prospects and international players.
“The world is a big place,” he said. “We have a staff that is recruiting worldwide.”