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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Why he’s our male athlete of the year: Ayo Dosunmu wasn’t just one of the best players in the country in 2020-21. The Illinois junior guard put up numbers — 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game — that few players have matched in nearly 30 years. Just three others, in fact, in Memphis’ Penny Hardaway, Morehead State’s Ricky Minard and Ohio State’s Evan Turner.

What will you remember most from this past season? “I’ll remember the sacrifices that the team took to not only stay safe but to put ourselves in the position to win. It’s a COVID year, so this was probably one of the most memorable seasons that I will ever have. Just knowing we sacrificed so much — tested so early, closed so many doors for the moment — just to be able to go out there and play. That’s what I’ll remember the most.”

What were the emotions like getting to cut down the net in Indianapolis after a Big Ten tournament title in front of fans? “I was sad that the Orange Krush didn’t get to pack up the arenas and win a championship, but it is what it is. It was great playing in front of fans in Indy and playing in front of fans at Ohio State. That was great.”

How do you view your Illinois career as a whole? “I’m going to view it as a success. Being able to accomplish a Big Ten championship isn’t something that comes easy. My freshman year coming in being in the locker room where we were one of the worst teams by record in the Big Ten and being a laughingstock of the season to turn it around to be one of the top-five teams in the country — ranked as high as No. 2 — winning a Big Ten championship and being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament just shows hard work, growth and dedication.

What does it mean to you to follow through on your goal to help bring Illinois basketball back to relevancy? “It’s a dream come true. Of course, I wanted to win a national championship. That’s what everyone wants to do. But when you come and stood in front of people and tell fans what the goals — tell the coaching staff, tell the media — and then you go out there and accomplish it, man, that’s a dream come true. That’s something I wanted to make sure I did to be in a position viewed as one of the best teams in the conference after that was my word to get us back to help get us back to that top program. … It’s bigger than winning a national championship, to see myself and the whole team be successful and see other guys move up in their basketball journey. That’s what means the most to me.”

➜ Who do you think could have a big year next season for Illinois? “Of course, I think (Andre) Curbelo will play very well in his sophomore season. I definitely think he takes that leap and becomes one of the best players in the country. Trent (Frazier), of course, being a senior he has that experience. He’s been in the lab, and he knows how hard it takes to work. I think he’ll play with confidence and be an overall leader out there. I like the freshmen coming in. I think they’re very skilled, have a lot of confidence and they’re all good in their own way. I think Jacob Grandison plays well. Da’Monte (Williams). I think pretty much the whole team takes that next step of being good players.”

Honor Roll: Previous N-G Illini Male Athletes of the Year

Year Athlete Sport

2020 Ayo Dosunmu Basketball

2019 Devin Quinn Track and field

2018 Bren Spillane Baseball

2017 Malcolm Hill Basketball

2016 Isaiah Martinez Wrestling

2015 Isaiah Martinez Wrestling

2014 Jesse Delgado Wrestling

2013 Justin Parr Baseball

2012 Andrew Riley Track and field

2011 Mikel Leshoure Football

2010 Scott Langley Golf

2009 Paul Ruggeri Gymnastics

2008 Rashard Mendenhall Football

2007 Kevin Anderson Tennis

2006 Justin Spring Gymnastics

2005 Luther Head Basketball

2004 Brian Wilson Tennis

2003 Matt Lackey Wrestling

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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