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The Prince That Was Promised

Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are back. And so are the Fighting Illini.

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

Prophecy is a funny recipe — legend, mythology, storytelling and unsubstantiated half-truths with just a dash of rational thinking. It falls somewhere between physical evidence and blind faith, with a heavy lean toward the latter.

This weekend, sports have made their long awaited return across the county. But it hasn’t quite been ‘sports’ yet. You know, sports: The community of lunatics; the tie that still binds you to your grandparents or brother or ex-girlfriend; the thing that sends an electrical current through your limbs that can only be quelled by a light ale.

Well that current was back Friday night. We all felt it. I felt it as I was walking down Milwaukee Avenue and saw a video from Ayo come across the timeline. I was expecting a professional thank you detailing his next chapter. But instead… He was back. And that buzz of energy was back too.

Champaign-Urbana got turned on its head in a matter of 90 seconds. Anyone who claims they thought Ayo was coming back was lying to themselves and to you. Dosunmu got screwed. He didn’t get a tournament to showcase his skills. He didn’t have a chance to prove his worth at the combine. He didn’t get a chance to blow front office members away in person with his genuine character and leadership. It’s not fair. And that video said it all.

Gray. Somber. Desolate.

That’s a 20-year-old kid handling the uncertainty and anxiety of his future by going back to work and doing what he loves. You don’t have to be a basketball superstar to relate to that.

What else could you ask for in a representative of a state, city and university? At that age? It’s so absurdly clear that he was the one we have been talking about for a decade, the Chicago star to travel two hours south and put C-U back on the map and restore Illini pride. Ayo is the one we’ve told tales of for years on message boards, at holiday dinners and office happy hours. The one who could bring the Fighting Illini back.

It’s also apparent that he is the one who can lead and inspire those in his city that look up to him, as well as his current teammates.

Less than 24 hours later, Kofi Cockburn announced that he is returning to school. This independent event isn’t as surprising, but how it unfolded is just as intriguing. The command and respect that Ayo has from everyone in that program is remarkable. That respect seems to go all the way up to the Head Coach and AD. Even those with the money and power seem to understand that this is his program.

Was there any doubt that Kofi would not be back once we knew Ayo was back? Not really. But he could have announced weeks ago on his own terms and had more of a spotlight. However, it’s clear he wanted to coordinate Ayo, and make this a moment for Illinois Basketball. And that’s really damn cool.

I’ve always said — “Illinois Basketball will be back when you don’t have to ask if it’s back.”

Well, we’re there.

This will be a top-10 preseason team, with a preseason All-American and multiple preseason All-Big Ten pieces. Next season is no longer about “will they make the tournament”, but is instead about “how memorable and historic of a season will 2021 be for the program?”

Will we be recalling 2021 like we do with 2005 and 1989? These are lofty expectations, but they are far from unfounded. These seasons potentially coming in 16-year cycles is something you couldn’t make up and something oddly prophetic at the same time.

Ayo has always been the kid this fan base was waiting for.

And if this world gives him a chance to lead it out of the dark, he might just make history.