CHAMPAIGN — Consider former NBA champions Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins already impressed by Ayo Dosunmu.
Dosunmu made a Tuesday afternoon appearance on “The Jump” on ESPN to announce the news everyone expected. The Illinois junior guard is declaring for the 2021 NBA draft and will hire an agent. His time with the Illini is complete.
Jefferson, Perkins and host Rachel Nichols didn’t shy away from praising Dosunmu for how he handled himself on national TV. Dosunmu was decked out in a classic black suit and tie. The clean lines extended to his background for the remote interview.
Then there was what Dosunmu had to say about declaring for this year’s draft, his readiness to take the next step in his basketball career and how the Illini staff, including strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher, helped him reach this point in his basketball journey.
“Last year, I went through the draft process and got so much feedback from nearly almost every NBA team,” Dosunmu said. “I just wanted to turn what they said, the constructive criticism, and I just worked at it. I improved on pretty much all of my offensive and defensive stats. I gained 7-8 pounds. Shoutout to Coach Fletch. We put in a lot of work into the weight room. My coaches, they helped me each and every day — long nights in the gym.
“I just think I see the game better. I see the game much differently being a junior, being 21 years old. I put so much work into my film. That’s what makes me believe I’m ready for the NBA.”
Dosunmu ultimately decided to pull his name from the 2020 NBA draft last July and took advantage of that third season at Illinois, elevating his draft stock with a superb junior season and hitting on several of the goals he laid out for himself and his team. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard was a consensus First Team All-American, won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s best point guard and claimed USA Today Player of the Year honors.
“He should be the guiding light, the example, of stick-to-itiveness, of adversity, of work — you name it,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said before rattling off all the areas Dosunmu grew in his three seasons with the Illini.
Gains in the weight room. Dealing with a program-record 21 losses in his freshman season. Becoming one of the best late-game closers in the country.
“Making unbelievable decisions in terms of returning to college and not worrying about a timeline,” Underwood continued. “Just doing it when it was right. Now to becoming national player of the year by USA Today, a First Team All-American and a guy who’s going to be a first-round draft pick. If there’s ever any better guiding light than that, I don’t know what it is.
“He’s a young man who kept his nose to the grindstone and worked really, really hard and didn’t get swayed from what the ultimate goal at the finish line was. He was spectacular. He’s been through it all. He’s been through adversity. He’s a better person, better player, because he went through all of that.”
Dosunmu averaged career highs in scoring, points and rebounds during the 2020-21 season, while also setting career-best marks in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. At 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, Dosunmu became the first player since Ohio State’s Evan Turner in the 2009-10 season to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in a season.
Those improvements were the result of the work Dosunmu put in to answer questions — particularly about three-point shooting — NBA organizations had about his game. Multiple NBA draft boards project Dosunmu as a first-round selection leading into the July 29 draft. The Chicago native is ranked as the No. 22 overall draft prospect by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and No. 23 by The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie.
“It’s going to mean the world to me and my family,” Dosunmu said about his potential to be drafted. “We’ve put so much work in. … To know that July 29, my dream could come true, it just fuels me more each and every day to get better and keep working.”
Dosunmu also addressed how he views his game during his appearance on “The Jump” after Perkins compared him to a “bigger Dennis Schröder.” Dosunmu leans more in the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ability in ball-screen action) and Jrue Holiday (two-way guard) direction.
“I try to take my game from a lot of different point guards,” Dosunmu said. “I love watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander because we have about the same measurements — the wingspan, the height. … (Holiday is) 6-4 and can score and can pass it. He does great in pick-and-roll reads, and he’s tenacious on the defensive end as a guard. I try to pride myself on being a complete player — rebounding, scoring and facilitating. Doing whatever it takes to help my team win. I think Jrue Holiday is a prime example of that at the guard position.”