Asmussen: This is a big one, Illinois fans

Asmussen: This is a big one, Illinois fans

CHICAGO  — The football team is flailing. Winter is coming.

The Illinois athletic program needed a win. In the worst way.

It got it Thursday night at the Jordan Brand store when Ayo Dosunmu said “I do” to Brad Underwood.

Turns out the sun will come up tomorrow. Brighter than ever.

Illinois basketball has another piece to build around. He isn’t Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Can’t put that kind of pressure on him.

But he is really, really good. Just as important, it tells other top players: “Come to Illinois.”


Dare we compare him to Dee Brown?

The current UIC assistant coach helped draw recruits and fans to Illinois.

Or go back to an earlier era. Like the 1980s when Nick Anderson, another Chicago guy, decided to play in Champaign.

Anderson was part of the school’s first Hall of Fame class. Yes, he was important.

Or Eddie Johnson, a breakthrough player for Lou Henson when it came to recruiting Chicago.

Johnson, who left the place as its career scoring leader, should enter the Hall of Fame soon.

Maybe 15 years down the road, Ayo gets the call.

After leading Illinois to a couple of deep runs in the NCAA tournament. And a nice career in the NBA.

The name is lyrical, and figures to be chanted early and often by Illinois fans.

Let me do my best to calm down some of the worriers out there.

You know who you are.

The kind that sit around after they hear the announcement and say “But will he actually show up?”

Yes, Ayo will sign in November. No last-minute switch to Kentucky or Kansas.

While Ayo made the announcement official on Thursday, it seems like the race ended a while ago. Illinois, so close to home with a coach ready to use his talents, was the right choice.

Smart of him to consider Danny Manning’s program.

The former Kansas star is building a nice team in Winston-Salem and will soon be an every-year challenger in the wicked-deep ACC.

Had Ayo been from Raleigh or Charlotte, it would have been an easy call for the Demon Deacons.

But C-U is a quick trip for his family. If they want to see him every game, it won’t involve a long commute. Just a quick sprint down I-57.

Is Ayo the first of a wave of Chicago players coming to C-U?

Former Illini Jerry Colangelo was surprised to hear there are no Chicagoans on the current team.

Not in a good way. Like all proud alums, he wants the talent to flow south from the basketball hotbed.

Henson had it going, landing top player after top player. From Eddie Johnson to Efrem Winters to Nick Anderson to Marcus Liberty to Deon Thomas to Kiwane Garris. He didn’t keep all rival schools out, but close enough.

That should be Underwood’s goal. Fill the team with kids from the state. Just like Henson.

There is plenty of talent nearby to win at a very high level.

For a long time. If he wants to venture out to grab a top player or two from another state, that’s fine.

Texan Deron Williams worked out well for the Illini.

But the bulk of the team needs to love deep dish pizza and favor the Bears, Bulls, Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks.

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