Ayo: 'Everybody is watching'

Ayo: 'Everybody is watching'

BURBANK — The Morgan Park boys' basketball team walked into the gym at St. Laurence High School about 40 minutes before tipoff of Tuesday night's Class 3A sectional semifinal between the defending state champion Mustangs and host Vikings.

Ayo Dosunmu was in the middle of a conversation with his teammates as they filtered into the compact venue. So the Morgan Park guard probably didn't hear the group of middle school-age basketball fans yell out "There's Ayo!" as Morgan Park headed to the locker room before getting another step closer to a return trip to Peoria with a 92-74 win against St. Laurence.

Dosunmu is easily the most recognizable of the Mustangs. It's a phenomenon not limited to the Chicagoland area. Basketball fans know him by sight — especially those decked out in orange and blue, which there were several of at St. Laurence.

All eyes are on the Illinois-bound five-star guard, who's ranked among the nation's top 30 players in the Class of 2018. Dosunmu's thriving, and so is Morgan Park, which is just a super-sectional showdown with North Lawndale away from a shot at another state title.

"This didn't come overnight," said Quam Dosunmu, Ayo's father. "Ayo was built for this. This is a process he's been going through that he understands. Learning from Charlie (Moore). Learning from some of the greats from Morgan Park.

"It's just understanding basketball in the city — understanding your time and your window and maximizing that. They're only going to cheer for him because of the hard work he puts in."

Becoming the center of attention

Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said he's seen a growing maturity in Dosunmu — in his game and simply as an 18-year-old high schooler. As regimented and contained as the Dosunmu family kept his recruitment, there were still outside influences that had to be handled.

"Everybody is watching him," Irvin said. "It's tough. A lot of people are pulling at him, telling him to do this or do that. Do an interview. Do a workout. His father and mom do a great job of keeping him humble and keeping him on the right path.

"He's got a strong family base from his mom, dad, sisters, aunties and uncles. I'm on the backside cleaning up and watching him during the day so he really can't do nothing."

Dosunmu still has his fans. Just check social media for the photos of the future Illini guard with the sons and daughters of Illinois supporters. He was a major hit at Beasley Elementary Magnet Academy — his former grade school — when Morgan Park made the rounds of Chicago elementary schools with their state trophy last spring.

"I told him that's what it's about," said Jamarra Dosunmu, Ayo's mom. "It's always bigger than you. We teach him that. That's who you play for. That's who comes out to see you.

"That's who's looking at you as a role model, which is why we make sure he keeps himself positive as far as his social media, how he presents in public and how he presents himself on the court. All of that is important to us as a family."

Playing through pain

It's one reason a hobbled Dosunmu tried to play in early January against Chaminade (Mo.) at the Highland Shootout after suffering an ankle injury in the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament in late December. And why he tried again a week later when Morgan Park squared off against Bolingbrook.

"He didn't want to disappoint the Illini fans and was like, 'Nick, I want to play,' " Irvin said. "That's the type of kid he is. He was going to try as much as possible to play."

"He's a competitor," Jamarra Dosunmu added. "He didn't want to disappoint the fans. He didn't want to disappoint his Illinois family. He knew that they all came out to see him at those games, so he really wanted to be there and produce."

Dosunmu's mobility was seriously limited in what turned out to be his two aborted comeback attempts after he also played against Bolingbrook. He struggled getting up and down the court and had zero lateral mobility to speak of, hampered by his injured left ankle. He went scoreless playing just the first half against Chaminade and had nine points against Bolingbrook while still slowed by the injury.

"At that moment it was just best for all of us to look at and understand the big picture — sit out, heal, get stronger," Quam Dosunmu said.

Given the luxury of hindsight a month later, Dosunmu said he wouldn't have played in those games given the same decision to make. He said at the time he felt like he could play, so he should play.

"I just had to eventually tell myself, 'What's best for the team?' " Dosunmu said. "If I would have kept playing, who knows? I could have tweaked it some more and wouldn't be able to play now. I had to swallow my pride and take a month off, just rehab hard and try to come back as strong as I possibly can."

Quam Dosunmu now calls his son's ankle injury "a blessing in disguise." It forced him to refocus, appreciate the game more.

"You could lose it just like that," Quam Dosunmu said. "He realized that and understood that, and his focus was totally different."

Seeing his game in different light

The injury also created a shift in Dosunmu's game. He's starting to rely on his three-point shot and pull-up jumpers more. The 6-foot-4 guard is still aggressive attacking the basket with the ball in his hands, but without the occasional recklessness he once had.

Mostly, Dosunmu is trusting his teammates more. Adam Miller and Marcus Watson took on bigger roles in the Morgan Park backcourt with Dosunmu sidelined, and Cam Burrell became a go-to scoring option in his own right in the frontcourt.

"He's understanding the 10 games that he missed that Adam, Marcus and Cam stepped up and they played good ball," Quam Dosunmu said. "They're gelling and they're working together."

That was evident Tuesday against St. Laurence. Dosunmu made just one of his first six shots in the first quarter, but he still rebounded and worked to get his teammates involved. His jump shot eventually started falling, but his final line of 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists is representative of how his game remains well rounded.

"He's been trying to get his teammates involved first and then pick and choose his spots," Irvin said. "But I told him, 'This is state playoff time. You've got to be you.' He's been doing that and playing the game the right way."

Sharing a backcourt with Miller and Watson in regular three-guard lineups for Morgan Park has seen Dosunmu play more off the ball compared to last season. While he had the ball in his hands early against St. Laurence when the Vikings were keeping the game tight, he operated on the wing as much or more than he filled the "lead guard" role.

"At the next level, there's really no such thing as one point guard unless it's the NBA," Dosunmu said. "In college, there's going to be two or three guards. You've got to adjust. It really doesn't matter who brings it up when you've got three guards.

"I can get my team involved. I can shoot my jumpshot. I can attack. I can do a variety of things. The defenses, they just key into me a lot. Even if I'm just standing in the corner, they key into me and it gets Cam or Marcus or Adam open lanes."

Road to Peoria still intact

Dosunmu has the next stage of his basketball career in the back of his mind. So do his parents. But there's some unfinished business in the next week. Beating North Lawndale in Tuesday's super-sectional in Joliet. Then a return trip to Peoria and the state tournament.

"The next (five) days we'll finish this chapter," Quam Dosunmu said. "That's what it's all about for us right now. After those (five) days, we are blue and orange 120 percent. (Illinois coach Brad Underwood) is going to take him to the next level and hopefully, grace of God, he'll pass him on to somebody else.

"We understand the process. Coach Underwood, we love his system. We love the way he gets after the players. I was a boisterous person (as a coach). Nick's a boisterous person. He understands that. Nothing fazes him. He just takes it and keeps it moving."

Dosunmu knows there's a chance he can have an immediate impact at Illinois. He also knows that chance only comes if he keeps working and pushes himself in the offseason.

The future, though, hasn't pushed Dosunmu from his narrow focus. Winning another state championship — particularly after a foot injury sidelined him for last year’s title game — is the only way he wants to end his high school basketball career.

“It’s very important to me,” he said. “I know there are a lot of people that are waiting on me to lose. There’s haters out here. I just want to come out here, prove them wrong and just go out with a bang and then go on to the next level. When you win, nobody says anything.”