Asmussen | As Dosunmu rises, so do his chances of early departure

Asmussen | As Dosunmu rises, so do his chances of early departure

I saw Deron Wiliams as a freshman. And Brian Cook. And Frank Williams.

All three became NBA first-round draft picks. None of them were as good as freshmen as Ayo Dosunmu is right now for the Illinois men's basketball program. Not even close.

The Illini guard put up another big number against Michigan on Thursday night, scoring 19 points in the first half on his way to a game-high 23 points.

It was his seventh game with at least 18 points this season. Including the last four.

Good news, Illinois: Others are starting to notice Dosunmu. Bad news, Illinois: That includes NBA scouts.

I checked a string of 2019 NBA mock drafts on Friday. They didn't mention Dosunmu. Yet.

The mock drafters are dealing with older data. Soon, they will catch up. And soon, Dosunmu will start dotting the lists.

Is the 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard out of Chicago's Morgan Park ready for the NBA?

Sure looked like it Thursday night.

Michigan coach John Beilein is a fan.

"He's a problem when he's in space," said Beilein, coach of the nation's No. 2 team.

Of course, Beilein and his Big Ten cohorts are likely rooting for Dosunmu to go as soon as possible.

Most other schools in the conference have been hit by early defections. It has been less frequent for Illinois.

Williams had a year left when he declared after the magical 2004-2005 season that culminated in the NCAA runner-up finish. He was the third pick in the draft who went on to win Olympic gold medals and have a long, successful NBA career.

Everybody pulled for Williams, who remains one of the most popular players in program history.

The school thought so much of him, Williams was part of its first Hall of Fame class. It was a no-brainer.

Fan friendly

When Dosunmu plays like he did against the unbeaten Wolverines, there is an extra level of appreciation from the crowd.

After his "how'd he do that" baskets and out-of-nowhere blocks, there were oohs and ahs. Not everyone gets that treatment.

He shares Dee Brown's number 11 and is moving toward Brown in terms of popularity.

If he stays all four years, he will rank among the school's leaders in multiple statistical categories.

The Illinois coaches put a lot of time and effort into Dosunmu's recruitment. To make sure they got him, they turned away from other talented players.

Was it worth it? Based on early returns, it's a loud "yes."

Illinois coach Brad Underwood talks glowingly about his young star. But it isn't hype. It's more matter of fact. An expectation.

Under consideration

Earlier this week, ESPN updated its draft prospects list and put Dosunmu at No. 24. That means first-round talent.

Currently, not a lot of European players are projected in the first round, which would work in Dosunmu's favor.

The player has talked about being a one-and-done guy in the past. He mentioned it when he made the commitment to Illinois in October 2017 and it has always been a possibility.

Against Michigan, Dosunmu had a pair of chase-down blocks. Highlight-reel stuff. He was asked about them afterward.

His answer provides a clue about the future.

"I try to give my all each and every night," Dosunmu said. "No matter if we're up 20 or down 20, I play to the end of the clock.

"Be true to the game. Be true to the God-given talent that God has given me. Any minute, he could take it away from me. I've got to use it."

Left unsaid: the sooner, the better.

If he makes the move, I would encourage Illinois fans to feel about Dosunmu like they felt about Deron Williams: Thank him for his time in C-U. And be ready to cheer for him at the next level.

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

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