Welcome to campus, Ayo

Welcome to campus, Ayo

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu isn’t alone among the champions Brad Underwood recruited to Illinois in the 2018 class with his pair of Class 3A state titles at Morgan Park.

Alan Griffin won every New York title this past season as a senior at Archbishop Stepinac. Andres Feliz won a national championship at Northwest Florida State in the 2016-17 season.

But Dosunmu is the only one of the Illinois newcomers with a gold medal, having helped lead Team USA to victory in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship on Saturday night with a win against Canada. His arrival in Champaign delayed by that gold medal run, Dosunmu made it to campus Monday morning to officially start his Illini career.

“To me, there’s no experience like that,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of Dosunmu’s U.S. Basketball stint. “He’s doing that with a group of guys who are the 12 best in this country at his age. That’s an unbelievable honor.

“He’s experiencing something he’ll never forget for the rest of his life. With that comes a confidence and a swagger that will help on this campus and help him with his teammates and help him ultimately grow to be the best he can be.”

Expectations have already been heaped on Dosunmu, as the five-star guard is the highest-ranked player to choose Illinois since Dee Brown. Those expectations — the pressure — is something Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin said Dosunmu has handled well the last eight months since he first committed to the Illini in mid-October 2017.

“Knowing Ayo and his mindset, he wants to change the culture of Illinois overnight,” Irvin said. “It’s good he wants to do that, and possibly he can do that. ... He wanted to change everything because he knows he’s a leader. It’s in him to lead, so he doesn’t have a problem wanting to direct. He doesn’t have a problem with pressure at all. He takes it well.”

Dosunmu handled the pressure of his first round of international basketball with aplomb and played a key role in another gold medal for Team USA. He averaged 9.5 points, 4.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds as one of the team’s most well-rounded players, which also included his ability as a lockdown perimeter defender.

The latter wasn’t a shock to Irvin. Dosunmu went through regular two-a-day workouts this spring to reach peak form.

“He really finished the season about 85 percent,” Irvin said. Dosunmu injured his ankle in December and missed a month before returning to lead Morgan Park to another state championship.

“He knew he had to be down in Champaign and he knew he had the (Team USA) trials, so he really had to get his body to where he could compete at a high level again,” Irvin continued. “The work he’s been putting in, I’m not surprised at all. When he played with Charlie Moore, he was one of Morgan Park’s best defenders. Getting back to that level as an elite defender didn’t surprise me at all.”

Those two-a-day workouts also saw Dosunmu completely rebuild his shot between the end of his senior season and the USA Basketball training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., that earned him a roster spot on the national team. But that was one part of his game he didn’t show off in Canada. While he shot 62.5 percent from the field in six games — scoring at will at the rim — he missed the five three-pointers he attempted.

“We knew going into college he had to change his shot,” Irvin said. Dosunmu has abandoned what was essentially a push shot and now has a higher, more natural release point.

“We really wanted to change it right before the AAU season last year,” Irvin continued. “We were like, ‘We can’t change it because you don’t want to affect any of the rankings because he’s trying to work on a new shot.’ Doing the two-a-days, working out extra hard, he put in the work to change his shot. It’s a higher shot, which he can get off on anybody now.”

Work on Dosunmu’s shot will continue now that he’s made it to Champaign.

“That will be a continuing piece the rest of this summer to make that a muscle memory deal,” Underwood said. “Just tons of reps. No one works harder than Ayo in terms of getting in the gym. If he becomes that lethal three-point shooter, he’s going to be impossible to guard.”

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