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Illinois Basketball 2019-20 Player Review: Ayo Dosunmu

The hero we deserved.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Program Changer.

Your favorite recruiting service, fan blog, or old college classmate likes to throw that term around when talking about whatever top-100 player your school just landed.

They rarely change the program.

Ayo Dosunmu changed the program, almost singlehandedly.

Not only did he live up to the hype, but he greatly surpassed it. Even earlier this year during nonconference play there were people questioning Dosunmu’s impact and ceiling.

However, once conference play started he stepped up to the plate in the big moments like few collegiate players I’ve ever seen before. Game-winner after game-winner. Clutch shots to ice seemingly every game. And they weren’t easy shots. They were master-crafted, fadeaway isolation jumpers. Like a pro.

Ayo was a weapon that Illinois hasn’t had in years. A bucket in the halfcourt and blur on the break. While others contributed this year, Kofi Cockburn and Alan Griffin had breakout seasons, and Andres Feliz steadied the ship when things got rocky, this was Ayo Dosunmu’s team. And it’s a tragedy that we didn’t see how far he could carry the Illini in March.

He came back to settle his #UnfinishedBusiness, and while Illinois still couldn’t get the satisfaction of hearing its name called on Selection Sunday, Ayo Dosunmu cemented himself as a legend in the orange and blue forever.

He changed the program.

By The Numbers

Dosunmu was selected First Team All-Big Ten by the media, and second team by the coaches. Luka Garza deserved the Player of the Year award with the monstrous numbers he put up. But if you asked me which player in the Big Ten I would select if we were to re-draft all the rosters, Ayo would be my number one pick.

He averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in his sophomore season. His shooting numbers were 48% from the field, 30% from three and 75% from the line. Ayo has always been knocked for his shooting, but he really showed his range in the clutch moments even if the percentages don’t jump off the page. The array of jumpshots he was able take, make and create this year compared to last provided a huge boost for the Illini offense.

In addition to improved clutch jumpshooting, Ayo proved lethal in transition. Synergy ranked him as one of the top five transition scorers this season.

He led the Illini in scoring and assists for the second straight season. Dosunmu’s offensive advanced numbers remained relatively steady with some slight improvement over his freshman year and his defensive numbers improved drastically due to the overall scheme change and personnel.

Ayo’s play outshined his numbers. But perhaps the most impressive thing about his numbers is their consistency. Ayo failed to score in double figures only four times. He scored nine points three times and 6 points in the blowout home victory over Purdue. Ayo showed up every night.

Ayo’s Best Game

This is nearly an impossible task.

It came down to the game at Michigan and the game at Penn State. I ended up choosing the game at Michigan, but I want to acknowledge the heroics that took place at Penn State, so this will be a double feature.

The Penn State game was the first game back after his scary knee injury against Michigan State. The team was on a four-game losing streak, we thought we may be without Ayo for the year, and that the whole dream was about to go up in smoke.

Instead, Ayo returns and plays 37 minutes and scores 24 points including a beautiful game-sealing floater to knock off a top-10 Penn State team on the road. He had risen from the dead, and revived the possibility of a Big Ten Title and a deep NCAA Tournament run.

But the Michigan game is my choice. This is when I thought “oh man we’re for real.” And it was because of Ayo.

Illinois had just won four in a row and was heading into a week with back-to-back road games with Purdue and Michigan and most fans were just hoping for a split. Frazier and the Illini gave Purdue their second beatdown of the year so the Michigan game felt less dire. But the team didn’t treat it that way.

With Alan Griffin suspended the Illini were incredibly limited offensively. Kofi Cockburn had one of his worst games as an Illini. He scored five points, grabbed three boards on 2-of-9 shooting and fouled out in 30 minutes. Ayo sensed that his team needed him from the jump and completely took over the game. He shot 61% from the field on 11-of-18 attempts, which was a season high in makes and attempts. He led the team in rebounds with seven, all defensive.

And of course, he capped off the game with a buzzer beater, Kobe-esque jumpshot over Zavier Simpson to break a tie game. That play and that still photo will forever be his iconic moment as a Fighting Illini.

The Quick and Dirty

Ayo Dosunmu was the best Illinois player of the last decade, revived the program and should have his jersey retired in the rafters of the State Farm Center.

The program requires certain criteria to be reached for a player to receive such an honor. But there are times to make exceptions. And this is one of them.

Dosunmu was a tremendous, leader, player and role model to return the flagship university of the state of Illinois to a place of prominence and respect.

The Illini will not see anyone with the skill and mentality again for a very, very long time. So it’s important we do our part to honor and thank him for everything he’s done.

Ayo has not yet announced a decision about his intentions for his playing future, but I fully expect him to test the waters, impress during the pre-draft process and go to the NBA. As fans, we all want to see him back. If he played his junior year at Illinois, the Illini would be a preseason top-10 team and preseason Big Ten favorites. But he’s already given this program so much. He finished his business, and fulfilled his promises.

Ayo Dosunmu should be a first round draft pick. Some smart, winning, successful franchise is going to scoop him up in the second round and NBA fans, writers and coaches are going to be saying “Where did this Ayo guy come from?!?!?” But don’t worry, we’ll know. And we’ll tell them:

He came from the University of Illinois.