A few months ago, Ayo Dosunmu was training for a future in the NBA. Here we are, three games into his junior season where the Illini are ranked No. 5 — and have their first top-five matchup since the 2005 title game against North Carolina.
“These are the games that you dream of paying,” Dosunmu said, “and this is the main reason I decided to come back, to play in games like this.”
Exactly how locked in are the Illini for their matchup with No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday?
“[Monday] in practice, there wasn’t any nonsense,” said head coach Brad Underwood on Tuesday. “Everything was very matter of fact. Everything was very calculated. It’s not like they aren’t that every day, but it was at a different level.”
Dosunmu has already put a stamp on this basketball program. He has a legacy that was cemented after last season when the Illini all but clinched their first tournament berth since 2013. They would have been called on Selection Sunday if COVID-19 didn’t lead to the postponement of the entire NCAA tournament.
This week could only add to the legacy of the star junior.
“I consider this a legacy game for the whole program,” he said.
His coach had similar thoughts on the Jimmy V Classic contest.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great challenge, a great team,” Underwood said. “We’re not even a week into the season yet. There’s a lot of room to grow yet with this group, but it’s a great challenge. You want to find out where you’re at.”
He later added how proud he is that his team finds itself in these types of games.
“This is where we belong,” Underwood said. “We should be in these games.”
The Illini have been led this season by Dosunmu, who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game this year (3-0).
The Chicago native came to Champaign initially with goals to return Illinois Basketball to national prominence, and that he did. He returned for a sophomore season saying that Illini Nation needed “to dance” and he essentially delivered on that promise as well.
But now, Dosunmu’s aspirations are even larger than just national prominence for the program.
“We have an opportunity to put the country on notice,” Dosunmu said. “Take what we want. Take what we need.”
In fact, the preseason All-American didn’t stop there.
“We believe we’re the best team in the country.”