Asmussen | Dosunmu is the big man on campus

Asmussen | Dosunmu is the big man on campus

Maybe he won't be the best freshman in the Big Ten. Or lead Illinois in scoring. Or push his team into the NCAA tournament.

But maybe, just maybe, Ayo Dosunmu will do all three.

With ease.

Let's start with the obvious takeaway from Friday's Illinois men's basketball media day: Dosunmu believes in himself. Not in a braggy way.

He has a quiet confidence that will serve him well in the Big Ten and beyond.

"I always want to win," Dosunmu said. "Any drill, I want to win. I just like winning. That's what I want to instill in the players here."

Others believe in him. Dosunmu hasn't played a game, but is already popular with Illinois fans. They have patiently waited for the next face of the program.

Challenge accepted.

"Everyone wants to see themselves reach their full potential," Dosunmu said. "I just try to come in each and every day and try to work."

If he had to do it all over again, Dosunmu would pick Illinois.

"It's just my mentality and how I was raised, but this opportunity only comes once in a lifetime," he said. "Playing for your home state while your home state is struggling, trying to come and help and turn them around. Not a lot of people would do that."

He's right. Most guys would have taken the easier path.

On campus, Dosunmu has quickly become the guy everyone wants to meet.

He stops and takes pictures with anyone who asks. You might think he is running for office. And he is. It's an unofficial title: "Mayor of State Farm Center."

"It's great," Dosunmu said. "I always stop and take pictures, sign autographs. I do all of that."

The Chicago native used to be the one doing the asking.

"Growing up, when I saw people like Derrick Rose or Jabari Parker in my city, that's what I wanted to do," Dosunmu said.

"I wanted a picture, autograph. So, I know I've got to do the same thing, how they treated me. It comes with the territory of being who I am. At the end of the day, I embrace it."

 

Numbers game

Dosumnu wears No. 11 to honor his late brother, who passed away at age 13. It was his brother's number.

It just so happens that 11 was also worn by Illini great Dee Brown.

Dosunmu knows Brown well.

"He was a mentor before I came here," Dosunmu said.

Brown is now on the coaching staff at Illinois-Chicago. He encouraged Dosunmu to consider Illinois.

"He's been in my shoes before," Dosunmu said. "He had a lot of pressure on him. The mistake that he made, he told me so I wouldn't make the same mistake."

With Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head and friends, the Illini won at a high level. Immediately.

Brown's first team won 25 games, then 26, then 37.

Dosunmu isn't ready to predict that kind of success. But the team will be better than the experts think.

"I really don't believe in rebuilding years," Dosunmu said. "Who wants to lose 25 games? That doesn't make sense to me."

His senior year at Chicago Morgan Park, the team struggled early in the season.

"They thought it was over with," Dosunmu said.

Not so much. The Mustangs came back to win a second consecutive Class 3A state title.

"We just locked in when it counts," he said. "That's what I'm trying to tell the team now. There's no way we should have to lose to win. We want to win now."

 

In his corner

Illinois coach Brad Underwood was asked: "How has Ayo looked so far in practice?"

"As advertised," he said. "A lot of people talk about Ayo. And they should.

"Ayo's great attribute may not be anything he does physically. He is an unbelievable teammate. And his pride for winning is exceptional. Everybody knows how hard he works. He puts in a ton of time. And basketball is really, really important to him and being successful is really important to him. He's got one of those personalities that he's magnetic. He draws guys to him and he makes them better."

Underwood heard all about Dosunmu from the USA Basketball coaches he worked with in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships before Dosunmu arrived on the UI campus this summer.

"He's the guy everybody loved to play with," Underwood said. "That's very evident on our team."

Dosunmu doesn't win them over just by being their buddy. He challenges them.

"We've had some great battles every day between Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu," Underwood said. "That's fun to watch because they are making each other better."

Not every day has been perfect. Some coaches, Underwood included, turn animated during practice.

Dosunmu appreciates it.

"The first practice, he yelled at me and it was fun," Dosunmu said. "It's fun knowing that he coached me. I take constructive criticism well. Anything he tells me, I just take it. I don't ever talk back because that's not me. I like being coached."

He is 18 going on 30. Thank his parents for his maturity.

"I try to adapt well," Dosunmu said. "After the first five to 10 games, I'm going to consider myself a sophomore."

 

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.