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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois' guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) slaps hands with the Orange Krush in a NCAA basketball game at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Sunday, March 1, 2020.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette ° Illinois' guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) slaps hands with the Orange Krush in a NCAA basketball game at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Sunday, March 1, ° 2020. °

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu snapped a serious drought when he was named Dike Eddleman Male Athlete of the Year on Wednesday.

The last winner from the Illinois men’s basketball team was Deron Williams in 2005. That win came another 15 years after Kendall Gill took home the top honor in 1990.

“To be in a category with those Illini legends, I’m humble and thankful and grateful for it,” Dosunmu said. “I know how many great athletes there are.”

Williams and Gill went on to have lengthy NBA careers after their time in Champaign. The former was a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection. The latter lasted 17 seasons in the league.

Dosunmu’s long-term goal is similar. The NBA is his future, and he took a step toward that dream by declaring as an early entrant for this year’s draft last month.

“Definitely the outlook would be me leaning toward going pro because that’s what I’m working toward,” Dosunmu said. “That’s my goal at the end of the day, to play in the NBA and work as hard as I can to be picked as high as possible. Of course, I didn’t sign with an agent because there’s so many uncertainties, but if everything goes the right way and everything gets back on track, of course I’ll be staying in the draft and working out to be the best player I can be.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has created said uncertainties with the NBA as a whole and with the 2020 draft. The lottery and combine — both originally scheduled for this month — have been postponed. That’s left the door at least cracked open for Dosunmu to return to Illinois for a third season.

“There’s always a possibility,” he said. “That’s why I haven’t signed with an agent yet. There’s so much uncertainty I don’t know and we don’t know. It would be foolish for me to say I’m signing with an agent without knowing what could happen tomorrow or what could happen next week.”

That hasn’t changed his determination into making his NBA dream a reality. The sooner, the better. After relying on home workouts only after he left Champaign for Chicago when the 2019-20 season was canceled before Illinois could play in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments, Dosunmu has since found a gym where he can take care of weightlifting and basketball workouts.

“I have everything I need to be successful,” Dosunmu said. “It felt good being in the gym. I started off with form shooting just getting my touch back. It’s muscle memory, so it came back fast. I just put a lot of reps up pretty much the first week or two — a lot of shots, ball handling, lifted a lot of weights. The more and more I got better and better at that, I started incorporating everything back in my game. Now I’m back at full strength with my workout schedule.”

The deadline for early entrants in the NBA draft to withdraw their name and maintain their eligibility was moved from June 3 to an indeterminate date Wednesday evening by the NCAA — just a couple hours after Dosunmu said that’s what he was hoping would happen. The NCAA’s move comes in response to the postponements the NBA has made to its pre-draft process. A rescheduled combine, originally set for May 21-24 in Chicago, is what Dosunmu is hoping for the most.

“I’m just working as hard as I can, getting in the gym each and every day,” Dosunmu said. “Turning my weaknesses into my strengths. There’s going to be a combine. There’s going to be a place where I’m going to be able to show my talents and show everything I can do.

“I’m just getting ready for whenever that time comes. I know I work hard every day, and it’s going to show.”

The 20-year-old Dosunmu has spent the last few weeks since he declared for the draft “being a sponge” when it comes to taking in as much information as possible that could determine his NBA future. Even without an agent.

“I know people,” he said. “I’m not a rookie in this process.”

That doesn’t mean Dosunmu doesn’t feel like he has something to prove. The most positive current draft projections have the 6-foot-5 guard, who averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season with the Illini, as a potential late second-round pick. A rescheduled combine and potential in-person workouts with NBA organizations could help his draft stock.

“Of course, I have something to prove — especially without having an NCAA tournament,” Dosunmu said. “I have to prove more. I’m up for the challenge. I know my capabilities.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, if there was an NCAA tournament you’d be a top-15, top-20 pick.’ Well, nothing’s changed. I’ve still got the same skills if there would have been an NCAA tournament. It’s just about people seeing it — the right people seeing it.”

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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