Only two words describe why Illinois sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu returned to the Fighting Illini this season: unfinished business.
Being a Chicago native from Morgan Park, Dosunmu’s reason for staying home was to help coach Brad Underwood turn the university’s basketball program around.
“I just want to bring good days back for basketball at Illinois, and I want to be one of the cornerstones to start it off,” Dosunmu told NBC Sports Chicago.
Having not gotten to the NCAA tournament since 2013 or past the third round since 2005, Illinois certainly needed someone to bring life back to its basketball program.
During his freshman season, Dosunmu became the first true freshman in Illini basketball history to lead the team in scoring, putting up 13.8 points per game. Despite being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team as well as an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team, Dosunmu’s individual success did not translate into team success.
The Fighting Illini were 11th in the conference with a 12-21 record and were just 7-13 against conference opponents.
With individual statistics placing him as high as 25th overall on boards prior to the 2019 NBA draft, Dosunmu could have easily entered the league as a first-round pick. Instead, he took to Twitter on April 18, 2019, to remind Illini nation of the promise he made to get Illinois to March Madness.
— Mr WhyNotMe (@AyoDos_11) April 18, 2019
Returning with a sense of purpose, Dosunmu took hold as the Fighting Illini’s lead guy this season. As he grew, so did the team.
He improved his statistical output to 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 48.4 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from behind the arc. He also led the Fighting Illini to a 21-10 mark, which was the program’s best record since 2012-2013. This more than likely would have put them in the NCAA tournament if not for the season’s cancellation due to COVID-19.
Dosunmu changed his shot selection from his freshman to sophomore season, increasing his two-point attempts from 7.3 to 10.2 per game while decreasing his three-point attempt from 4.4 to 3.3. This also put more emphasis on his ability to create space for himself in the mid-range and to be athletic around the rim, which is where he thrives the most.
Standing at 6’5” and 185 lb. with a 6’8.5” wingspan, Dosunmu has an aggressive driving style with strong finishes at the basket. Nonetheless, he often settles for his go-to mid-range jumper when caught in traffic.
As one of the nation’s best players in transition, along with his knack for stepping up in the clutch, he looks like he can be a reliable scorer at the pro level.
Carrying the Illini offense, Dosunmu scored 15 or more points in 23 of the team’s 31 games this season, including eight games with 20-plus. He notched a career-high 27 points and seven rebounds to beat Michigan. That win included hitting a tough contested jumper with 0.5 seconds left to give them the 64-62 victory.
Known for his hard-working attitude and determination, Dosunmu’s last game may have been his best impression for NBA scouts.
He logged a season-high 40 minutes while posting 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a 78-76 win against the conference rival Iowa Hawkeyes (who were ranked No. 18).
Dosunmu stepped up in the closing moments, going iso and turning into a fallaway jumper that put the Illini up by four with 31 seconds left in the game.
Dosunmu seems to have a Jimmy Butler-like demeanor, which could make him a promising NBA pro if put in the right system. Standing two inches taller than Dosunmu, Butler averaged 15.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 6.1 rebounds during his last season at Marquette before being selected 30th by the Chicago Bulls back in 2011.
Unlike Butler—who was relegated to being a defensive stopper during his early years with the Bulls—Dosunmu has the offensive skillset and build to be a decent third or fourth scoring option in a starting lineup. He could also be a primary scoring threat in the second unit while guarding the back positions relatively well.
Despite slightly improving as an all-around player, Dosunmu’s draft stock has drastically dropped from last season to this season due to questions about his positional fit at the next level.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie told the Illini Inquirer that where Dosunmu is projected varies based on who you ask:
“You look at his last 15 games: He averaged like 18 points, five rebounds and four assists. He was awesome as one of the best closers in college basketball last season.
But when you talk to NBA executives about him, it’s pretty mixed I would say. Some are pretty big fans and have him right in the range that I do.
“Others just really worry about the lack of jump shot and worry about how he’s going to translate to the next level if that jump shot doesn’t really ever come along. What position does he play? Is he a lead guard? Is he a two-guard? A lot of his success this season came when he was on ball, especially in those late-game scenarios operating in the pick ‘n roll.”
In some of the latest mock drafts, Dosunmu has been slotted no higher than the bottom of the second round. Sports Illustrated has him projected 55th overall to the Brooklyn Nets, who may need a bench guard with three-point sharpshooter Joe Harris potentially leaving in free agency this offseason.
Tankathon has Dosunmu projected 53rd overall to the Sacramento Kings, who are also in a bit of backcourt purgatory with Buddy Hield potentially wanting out and Bogdan Bogdonavic becoming a restricted free agent this summer.
NBADraftRoom.com has him mocked highest at 47th—to none other than the Chicago Bulls.
They could really use a player with a Jimmy Butler-like attitude who can fit nicely in the guard rotation with Zach Lavine and Coby White.
Dosunmu may be a raw talent, but he has the kinds of intangibles that could turn him into a potential superstar. He falls into that rare category of gritty, determined players who, if slept on, could come back to haunt to you.
Jimmy Butler is now a five-time all-star. Warriors forward Draymond Green was taken 35th back in 2012 and is a three-time all-star as well as one of the driving forces to the Warriors winning three championships
If unlocked, Dosunmu has the ability to grow into a similar type player, following in the footsteps of fellow Chicago natives Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis as the next potential Windy City superstar.
Hello, my fellow hoop fans! My name is Jalon Dixon, but my friends call me Jay. Basketball is a 24/7 obsession that I can never get enough of. Whether it be NBA, WNBA, college hoops, high school basketball or even AAU, I watch it all. My passion is to create conversation for the forever-growing basketball community. Expect a handful of hot takes, some mock drafts, player/team breakdowns and plenty of quality content. The recipe is the perfect balance of analytics, the eye test and a sprinkle of opinion just to show the writer’s inner fan. My motto is “Always embrace conversation”, so my DMs and inbox are always open for a fiery barbershop-style basketball debate or two.