CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu snuck in a few extra shots after a few minutes of interviews Tuesday morning at State Farm Center following Illinois men's basketball practice.
The 6-foot-5 guard mostly stuck to the three-point arc, calling out bank when he knocked down shots from the wing — reminiscent of his first-half buzzer-beater last Thursday night against Michigan. He also kept up a running commentary with the managers handling the rebounding and with sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who was getting a few last shots up of his own before his media obligations started.
Dosunmu's relaxed confidence was easily apparent. The Illinois freshman is, as they say in the basketball world, in his bag with the Illini (4-12, 0-5 Big Ten) set to return to action at 8 p.m. today at State Farm Center against Minnesota (13-3, 3-2).
"I'd be hard challenged to find any player in the country that, in every aspect of the game, is playing any better," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of Dosunmu.
"You can look numbers-wise, but from starting at ground zero as a freshman and looking at where he's at now, we were just talking after practice about how much confidence he's playing with at both ends."
Dosunmu is averaging 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in his last four games, while also having an effect defensively with five steals and four blocks in that same span. It's getting noticed — and not just in Champaign or across the Big Ten. He's at least piqued some next-level interest with his stellar start to 2019.
Not that Dosunmu is ready to talk about what interest he might be drawing from NBA scouts. His priority, he said, remains on the present.
"I'm just focusing on the college basketball season," Dosunmu said. "Focusing on the season, focusing on trying to get a conference win and just trying to be the best I can for Coach Underwood and my team. That's all I'm focusing on right now is beating Minnesota."
Still, Dosunmu's play is drawing attention, with what he's done the last four games standing in stark contrast to the game before his run started. Dosunmu's Braggin' Rights debut saw him finish with twice as many fouls and turnovers (four apiece) as points during Illinois' 79-63 to Missouri on Dec. 22 that saw the rivalry game trophy head back to Columbia, Mo., for the first time since 2012.
"The game is slowing down for him," Underwood said. "I think everything becomes rushed — everything becomes new — when you first get here. You can look at the missed layups in that stretch, and now he's finishing through contact and taking hits. Every time he shoots it, I think it's going in.
"But more importantly, he's making the right reads and he's making the right reads defensively. He's gained so much defensively. He's playing way beyond his years. He's playing in a very, very mature way, and that's a tribute to him."
Dosunmu has been able to match his season-long success from three-point range — he's shooting 39.7 percent — with stronger finishes at the rim in the last several weeks after struggling attacking the basket through much of the nonconference portion of the schedule. Basically the reverse of what the scouting report was on the former Morgan Park standout when he arrived at Illinois.
"I knew that the shots I was missing I was going to make them eventually because I've been making them my whole life," Dosunmu said. "It's all about paying attention to details. At this level every detail matters — the way you jump, how far you jump and keeping your eyes on the rim.
"Every detail matters. That's the difference between making a layup and missing a layup. I just went back to the drawing table and just watched some film with my coaches and looked at which details I needed to tweak and what I needed to fix. I did that, and it's helped me a lot."
Underwood credits a couple aspects of Dosunmu's game that have helped him not only carve up defenses with the ball in his hands but also finish at the basket stronger. Part of it is his confidence and the fact the game has slowed down to a point where his natural instincts take over.
"He's figured out defensively how teams are playing him," Underwood added. "When you see a lot of gap teams — we call them gap defense teams — they're always going to be at the elbows and always going to be at the blocks and creating that angle. He's done a much better job.
"Ayo's not the most physical player. He's learned how to get guys into ball screens better. He's learned how to change pace and keep guys off balance that are actually guarding him. He's done a great job of keeping guys on his hip and absorbing contact. That's not easy to do."
What Dosunmu is starting to do in games is what Frazier has seen from his backcourt mate all year in practice.
"He can really get downhill and finish over people," Frazier said. "He's dunked on a bunch of guys in practice. He's an unbelievable finisher. When his shot is falling, he's incredible. He's definitely a big threat whether he's driving it or hitting from outside."