Ayo Dosunmu became the face of Illinois basketball the past three-plus years. Beat writer Scott Richey chronicles five defining moments of his time with the Illini.
The scene at the Jordan Brand Store in downtown Chicago on Oct. 19, 2017, was telling. A room full of Illinois fans and one guy in a Wake Forest jacket. The Demon Deacons never really had a chance. Dosunmu understood the legacy he could create by staying “home” and choosing the Illini. The Chicago native bet on himself.
It did end well
Dan Dakich’s call in the final minutes of the Illinois-Michigan State game on Feb. 5, 2019, will live on as part of Dosunmu’s legend. Turns out the freshman guard pulling up from three-point range at State Farm Center was just fine. Dosunmu delivered a pair of late three-pointers that were simply the first in what would be a long line of big shots that established him as the game’s best closer.
One more year
Maybe a normal offseason and pre-draft process would have made a difference. The pandemic had other plans, and then Dosunmu bet on himself again. It’s rare that players return for a third season of college basketball and better their NBA draft stock. Dosunmu took that chance on July 31, 2020, when he decided one more year at Illinois would be best. (He was right).
Back on top
An early NCAA tournament exit meant a disappointing end to what had been one of the best seasons in Illinois basketball history. A week prior, though, the Illini were on top of the college basketball world with a Big Ten tournament championship and a No. 1 seed in March Madness on March 14. Illinois was relevant again. Dosunmu kept his commitment promise.
The next step
Tuesday’s announcement Dosunmu would enter the NBA draft and proceed forward with the next stage of his basketball career capped his time in Champaign. That next step, if most of the current projections hold, is status as Illinois’ first NBA draft pick since Meyers Leonard in 2012. Dosunmu likely played his way into the first round with his stellar junior season.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).