COLUMN: A Plea To Illini Fans On Ayo - Don’t Let Hope Be The Father of The Thought

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the sporting/entertainment world in this depressing month of March has led fans of Illini basketball down what can be a destructive path.

It’s not the path of anxiety. We’re already there.

It’s not located in confusion. Have you watched the daily media briefings in Washington D.C.? We’ve reached that destination.

The path is the actual directions how to get from hope to belief.

On the first day of March, Illinois basketball fans had accepted the idea that Ayo Dosunmu was playing his last games in a white, orange and blue uniform. He returned to the Illini program for his sophomore campaign and didn’t leave many boxes unchecked on the agenda.

Return Illini basketball to national relevance? Check.

Drag Illinois to NCAA tournament selection? Despite not having a selection show, you can check that one off.

Prove he can be the dominant element and leader of a top college basketball team? Big check. Establish yourself as a more-than-likely selection in the next NBA draft? Check.

Now with everything in the sports world that doesn’t have to do with NFL transactions being immediately halted and paused over a long-term period of time, Illinois basketball fans have begun to convince themselves of a dream. Illinois fans are suddenly trying to dilute their mind via false equivalency that Dosunmu could have more reasons to return to school again for his junior season. And don’t feel bad. It’s a natural feeling that was identified and as old as William Shakespere putting pen to paper.

In Shakespeare’s play “Henry IV”, the line exists of ‘Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought’. On the first day of April 2020, I’m pleading with Illini fans to not let the hope be the father of their thoughts.

Following a 78-76 win over Iowa in the regular season finale on March 8, Dosunmu went to center court of the State Farm Center to acknowledge a standing ovation. The sophomore star gave a huge man-hug to his head coach and then did a lap around the playing surface to acknowledge the fans. And as I witnessed this whole thing, I KNEW what it was. It was a goodbye. And one hell of a special one. Dosunmu acknowledged what this fan base meant to him and his family and attempted to reciprocate the appreciation as well.

So, okay, I’ll be the guy that tells you the mirage you see isn’t real and the spring water you think you’re drinking is sand you’re pouring down your throat. Because I’ve racked the logical portion of my brain and I just can’t find many legitimate reasons for Dosunmu to ever play another year of college basketball.

Here’s an easy way for an Illini fan to look at this situation: Come up with a reason Ayo would announce he’s returning to Illinois. Then ask yourself - is that reason for his benefit or for my enjoyment?

Example Reason 1) Dosunmu will want to come back to actual play in the NCAA tournament. Nope, that’s for you wanting to see him in that event, not him. He already got a team on the precipice of March Madness and frankly, Dosunmu has never struck me as a kid who grew up dreaming of anything but wearing an NBA jersey. He can’t do that in Champaign. Dosunmu’s father, who might know his son better than most if not all, has already told the Chicago Tribune that Dosunmu never having NCAA tournament experience won’t sway the 20-year-old guard either way.

Example Reason 2) With COVID-19 likely cancelling the prospects combine and pre-draft workouts, Dosunmu’s draft prospects have changed. This is something Yahoo’s Jon Rothstein presented this week without answering the why question at all. I think it is safe to assume the world’s largest professional basketball draft will take place. And when it does, Dosunmu can likely assume he’ll have his name called whenever draft night happens.

Example Reason 3) Dosunmu can come back and improve his perimeter shooting in his junior season. He could do that. He could (and likely will) also very much do that same thing under professional basketball training with no practice time limitations and regulations.

Example Reason 4) Even if you’re in the camp of caring whether Dosunmu eventually gets his degree from the University of Illinois, he’ll have plenty of time in his next few years of summer offseason months to do that. But that’s not for you either. That’ll come if and when HE WANTS THAT.

Hey, I get it. Hope is a wonderful thing and, when taken for what it is, can provide people with a healthy mental health balance throughout your life outlook. During recent times like this, hope is what can get you through the day. I’m not the cynical clown who is trying to convince anybody the opposite that there is very little to nothing wrong with having hope in your life. Look no further than the idea of a little-known junior U.S. Senator from Chicago named Barack Obama shaping a successful campaign for President of the United States and his best-selling autobiography from tapping into how the idea of hope. When mixed with a positive attitude combined with correct strategic moves, hope is a good thing.

This is one of those occasions where hope can be destructive because it is setting yourself up for disappointment.

It’s more than fair to suggest Ayo has done everything he said he wanted to achieve out of the college experience. On March 8, I watched Illini fans symbolically tell its star that this was so much fun but it was time to take his skills to another universe. It’s time to let Ayo go make a living out of this basketball thing as long as he can.

You want to hope for something? Hope this global health pandemic doesn’t further restrict this young man living his dream. Ayo Dosunmu has easily earned that right. 

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

I have read a lot of articles about this and I think the case for him to go pro is being made more by illini fans. After watching him closely and perform for the illini we expect the rest of the nation to view him like we do. If you look at most publications he's borderline a draft pick in a overall weak draft class. At best he's a second rounder and no one has him as a first rounder now. Given no ncaa tournament or pre draft workouts thats unlikely to change. We all act shocked when he wasn't unanimous first team all big ten but i think need to accept the more normalized view of him. He's a good player right now but lacks an nba jump shot and doesn't have a defined position. He's closed down games but also has disappeared in some games as well. The argument for him to come back is to improve his abilities, be an all american candidate, and have a bigger spotlight next year. You look at guys like Ja morant, Kemba walker, mikal bridges, jerome robinson- would they have been drafted had they left early? Sure but they benefited by having more time in school and it moved them up the draft board tremendously.