October 19, 2017 — or forever known to us, #AyoDay.
We, as Illini fans, anxiously watched as a five-star point guard out of Chicago was choosing between our Illinois Fighting Illini and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
We know how the story played out. Ayo chose the Illini. He signed early. Brad Underwood, months removed from gaining Illinois’ 2017 Mr. Basketball (Mark Smith), caught his big fish, and the Illini were going somewhere.
And then came a dismal season.
Four conference wins. A handful of transfers out of the program. Whatever that was with Talen Horton-Tucker. And a makeshift class to surround Ayo with for the upcoming season.
Of course, before I continue, I must digress. Not everything about last season was awful. There was a new offensive scheme. Trent Frazier became one of the Big Ten’s top players. Illinois beat Missouri. Again.
But whatever Ayo did mean for the program — hope, a change in direction, a victory — seems to have disappeared. Granted, Dosunmu has not even played in a game outside of Ubben for the Illini. His first chance won’t come for two more weeks.
And maybe that is what is amazing. He committed 54 weeks before he would even play his FIRST game! FIFTY-FOUR! Maybe there is some truth to the old Illini Twitter adage, “We only want guys who want to be Illini!” Ayo wants to be an Illini. Ayo is an Illini. And there are some major expectations out of Ayo.
He might not fit all of those this year. Dosunmu was named Preseason All-Big Ten Third-Team, while Frazier didn’t get anything. I was stunned.
Ayo might also not just stay one year. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he’s a one-and-done.
And, most importantly, Ayo might fit what Underwood wants in a leader, a ball-handler, and a face for the program. Like we have with Lovie (up until recently), it’s important to give Underwood a chance, even if that comes with a fairly short leash.
Illinois keeps missing on top recruits, and Underwood will eventually fill the 2019 class with some bodies. But until then, remember that this is possible.
How do we know that?
Happy #AyoDay, everyone.