Dosunmu is a big piece to the puzzle for the Illini

Dosunmu is a big piece to the puzzle for the Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood has said it before. The first-year Illinois coach is more concerned about how a potential recruit fits in his system than about how many stars said prospect might have or how high he's ranked.

But perception can matter, too.

So signing Ayo Dosunmu — a five-star point guard ranked in the top 20 in the country — when the early-signing period opened Wednesday is a win for the Illini.

"It's about fitting pieces of a puzzle together," Underwood said. "This one just happens to be a five-star, so I guess there's a little added bonus there."

Illinois' recruitment of Dosunmu restarted to a degree in the spring. The Morgan Park point guard had an offer from the previous Illini coaching staff — one that was reaffirmed by Underwood in April.

Underwood said it was clear from watching Dosunmu play for just 5-10 minutes that he'd fit the Illinois basketball puzzle Underwood is trying to piece together.

"The thing that I loved the most about him is his competitive drive to not be good, but to be great," Underwood said. "Every opportunity I got throughout the summer and the spring, when he was matched against other high-profile guards, ranked guards, there was no question who won those battles. I love that competitive, I-never-want-to-lose mentality."

If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. Illinois added another driven, competitive guard in April by signing 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith — the first Illini recruit for Underwood just a month after he was hired. He drew several parallels between the two guards Wednesday.

"They are so similar in terms of what drives them," Underwood said of Smith and Dosunmu. "I've said this about Mark many times. He's special in his dedication to not being good, but to being great. There's not many of those. Ayo has a lot of those same characteristics."

While Dosunmu and Smith might be similar in how they approach the game, how they play it is different. Underwood prefers that. He's going after complementary, not like, pieces for his puzzle.

Dosunmu, after all, will be joining an Illini backcourt for the 2018-19 season that would already boast Smith, Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams and Te'Jon Lucas. Dosunmu's combination of speed, length, defensive potential and ability to use ball screens as a scorer and distributor stand out to Underwood, and he called the 6-foot-5 guard an underrated shooter.

Pure scoring ability, though, stands out among any other of Dosunmu's on-court characteristics.

"At any point, he can go get his own (shot)," Underwood said. "Guards that can do that have tremendous value. ... Sometimes you've just got to have a go that can go get one, and Ayo's that guy."

Landing Dosunmu isn't just a win for Illinois on the first day of the early-signing period. Underwood has two open scholarships to work with to fill out the Illini's 2018 class. Dosunmu can be a draw moving forward.

"It's not just here in the state. I think nationally he's a name that everybody recognizes with greatness," Underwood said about Dosunmu, adding he has a contagious personality.

"Now we get to put our name next to his," Underwood continued. "I truly believe this, great players want to play with great players. When you start adding the Mark Smiths and Ayo and you go right down that list, that becomes very appealing for other quality players who want to go play with greatness."