Dosunmu may be young, but crafts his game from history

Dosunmu may be young, but crafts his game from history

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu's putback layup at the 13 minute, 51 second mark of Thursday night's game against Evansville was notable for more than it being the Illinois freshman's first career points.

They were also the first points scored by an Illinois player born after Jan. 1, 2000. Fellow freshman Tevian Jones became the second when he knocked down both free throws late in the first half that gave the Illini a 34-point lead on the Purple Aces en route to the eventual 99-60 win by Illinois.

A little context for that particular date mentioned above at the start of the 21st century. Lon Kruger was the Illini coach. The Peoria Pipeline was in full effect with Frank Williams — the father of Dosunmu's teammate Da'Monte Williams — in the midst of his breakout redshirt freshman season. And that was an NCAA tournament-bound Illinois team that restarted a run of seven more over two more coaches.

Beyond aging a lot of people, Dosunmu might be young, but the 18-year-old's game has been crafted from countless conversations about basketball and some focused studying of some of the NBA's all-time best.

"I love basketball," Dosunmu said. "I'm just a basketball guy. I always talk basketball in the barbershop or with my dad. I can go back to the Magic Johnson era. I might know some players before that if they were just great players, but really from the Magic era that's where I started studying."

Dosunmu's deep dive into basketball played before he was even born was purposeful. Part of it was his love of the game. Part of it was so he could mold his game by watching Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer.

"I've tried to take little pieces of everyone's game and implement it to my game currently," Dosunmu said. "I just watched so many different great point guards and how they pass. Like John Stockton. We're a different type of player, but the way he passed and the way he put the ball in his teammates' hands for them to be successful. I've been a basketball junkie trying to get as much knowledge as I can."

The clear strength of Dosunmu's game right now is what he can do with the ball in his hands — particularly in transition and attacking the basket. He hit Euro step after Euro step in the lane to elude any Evansville defenders and scored 10 of his 18 points in the lane.

But Dosunmu also knocked down a pair of first half three-pointers and said he's made "tremendous improvement" from beyond the arc since the end of his high school career. Understanding that great shooters like Steph Curry and Ray Allen — the two examples he gave — shoot differently helped him.

"Mentally, I tell myself I don't have a perfect form, but at the end of the day it's about how I trust in my shot," Dosunmu said. "I just got in the gym consistently and kept shooting every day. Once you see one go in, you shoot again and see another go in and your confidence boosts up from there."

Dosunmu's not the only Illinois freshman that's studied basketball. Giorgi Bezhanishvili has, too, but the player he watched most growing up in Rustavi, Georgia, and Vienna before coming to the U.S. a year ago was on a different level from the likes of Johnson, Stockton and Allen.

"I started watching and1 mixtapes," Bezhanishvili said. "My favorite guy was Hot Sauce. He's still one of my favorite players. I learned a lot from him. Now I watch the NBA since I'm here in the U.S.

"My favorite player is Nikola Jokic. I kind of try to play like him and impact the game like he does. I watch a lot of players. I watch point guards, big men, anybody. But I stay focused on Hot Sauce."

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5605, by email at srichey@news-gazette.com and on Twitter@srrichey.

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