COLUMN: Ayo Dosunmu Proves Again He Always Has The Ability To Surprise

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Only Ayo Dosunmu could create surprising news and uplift the weekend of every Illinois fan by technically not doing anything at all.

On July 31, 2020, Dosunmu remained a scholarship basketball player at the University of Illinois. Just like he was on July 30th and throughout the previous months of March, April, May and June. That’s surely a cynics point of view because with a short video and two words “Year three”, nobody can possibly admit nothing took place on the Friday night Dosunmu successfully hijacked the sports news cycle in Illinois and college basketball.

"Since I was a kid, I've been working," Dosunmu said in the narration of his announcement video. "My dream is to play in the NBA. But first, I need that national championship. Year three.”

So, whether he’s rising up for a game-winning, pull-up jumper over Zavier Simpson at Michigan, flying through the lane for a running finger roll over Lamar Stevens at Penn State or silencing a Kohl Center crowd at Wisconsin, Dosunmu proved once again with his Friday night announcement that he always has the ability to surprise.

With this announcement of Dosunmu returning to Illinois for his junior season, he now has the ability to enter the pantheon of Illini greats. He’ll likely be the first preseason All-America candidate since Dee Brown in 2005. He’ll be able to lead the Illini in scoring for a third straight season for the first time since Demetri McCamey (2009-11). He’ll be the 51st player in Illini history to top 1,000 career points. He’ll lead the Illini in assists per game for a third straight season for the first time since Frank Williams (2000-02). 

As a team, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood now will likely roll out the program’s most talented roster in 15 years, will likely be the coach of team ranked in the preseason for the first time in a decade and have a chance at the school’s first Big Ten regular season championship, in what will arguably be the nation’s best league, since 2005.

Not to mention the idea that Dosunmu spoke the words of “national championship” in his announcement video. If you’re a currently a student at Illinois, maybe ask your grandfather (1949, 1951, 1952), your father (1989 and 2001) or an older sibling (2005) about the Illini teams of the past that have been talented enough to think about hanging a title banner in Assembly Hall/State Farm Center but just couldn’t pull off the feat.

Let’s face it. This wasn’t the Ayo Dosunmu announcement Illini fans should’ve been prepared to hear. It wasn’t the news I was prepared to write. On April 1, I wrote 991 words preparing Illini fans for why they’ll never see Dosunmu in an Illinois jersey again. Just 14 days later, after he spoke to local and statewide media, I wrote 633 words on how even Illini fans knew the regular season finale win over Iowa (which turned out to be the final game of the 2019-20 season for Illinois) was a special goodbye to Dosunmu. That’s 1,624 total words preparing Illinois fans for what seemed like the inevitable. And in a weird way, I stand firmly behind the feeling I had in those two columns. Neither Ayo Dosunmu nor anybody in his very small circle of people gave the impression college basketball was a realistic option for him in 2021.

On April 16, Dosunmu’s father, who has been privately training his son in a gym in Chicago for the past few months, told the Chicago Tribune Ayo was “98% or 99%” committed to remaining in the NBA draft. Please don’t kid yourself thinking this decision by Dosunmu was anything but a massive 180-degree mental flip in a very short amount of time. 

As a storyteller, I’m fascinated at how the 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago came to this conclusion less than four days before the NCAA’s withdraw deadline for the upcoming NBA draft. Ayo’s tunnel vision and stubbornness are by now legendary growing up in the state of Illinois. It’s those qualities that have led him to being the most important basketball talent to grace the U of I campus in 15 years. Like it has for practically everybody on the planet, was it the massive reality of the coronavirus that led him to decide the NBA could wait for one more year? Maybe he’ll tell us. Maybe most of us will never know. All I do know is I give Dosunmu credit. The now future preseason All-America guard for the upcoming season needed just a 90-second video on Twitter to make a fool of myself and I have to believe a lot of others convinced the star guard wouldn’t see Champaign-Urbana again for a long time. Fine by me. Sometimes being wrong is the only way we learn.

And as they celebrated the news of the return of their two-time leading scorer and leader, Illinois basketball fans quickly learned preparing for the worst can sometimes be very much overrated. Scrap those dark clouds of impending doom for the sunshine of national relevance.

Only one question now remains: So, who exactly at Illinois calls George Lundeen to get him started on the Ayo Dosunmu statue to be placed just outside of State Farm Center? 

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