MORGAN PARK, Ill. — In the back of Khadijat Dosunmu’s TikTok video posted last Thursday night after the Illini dropped a 53-13 second half on Northwestern on the road, Jamarra Dosunmu was dancing in celebration roughly 30 miles from the Illini’s contest — just as she would if she were at her son’s game.
He’s never home but we always reppin’. Great second half Illini. aye what he say “hit the floor” pic.twitter.com/HCXtxyZOyd— HAWT Blondieeee (@SealedWithMatte) January 8, 2021
The 2020-21 season has been a tough one for the Dosunmu family. Many Big Ten programs, including Illinois, aren’t allowing families of players to attend the games, and if they were allowed to go, they wouldn’t even be able to talk to their son Ayo after the game.
“There are instances where we probably could go to those games,” she said. “I think it would be hard on me to not be able to interact, that’s something that I look forward to.”
Instead of sitting near Orange Krush, the Dosunmu family is tuning in to the Big Ten Network to see Ayo play. And instead of chanting and cheering, the family has had to take to Twitter and TikTok to celebrate the preseason All-America junior.
“Me not being able to have any contact with him, would make it bittersweet,” she said. “I would prefer to be there... but I'm okay with it.”
Jamarra said she is not particularly superstitious because her own mother is an ordained minister. However, when it comes to Ayo’s career, the family does have a few traditions they stick to.
Perhaps you’ve noticed, the family sits in the same seats in the stadium every game behind the Illini bench. And if you’ve seen Jamarra in a tank top? That’s because they aren’t allowed to change clothes during the game, so Jamarra sheds her sweatshirt pregame because she knows at some point during the contest she’ll get hot — at the refs or from so much yelling — and will need to cool off.
It’s been more than ten months since the Dosunmu family watched Ayo play a game in-person. It was what turned out to be the Illini’s season finale against Iowa, where Ayo sniffed a triple double with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists, and Illinois won, clinching a double-bye in the 2020 Big Ten Tournament. The Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were canceled four days later.
The family has watched this season’s first 13 games from home, more than they had missed in Ayo’s four years at Morgan Park High School and first two years at Illinois combined. Before a global pandemic forced the Dosunmu family to watch Ayo from the couch, the family had only missed Ayo’s games at a cross-country Nike showcase; two trips to Penn State due to airfare expenses; and a trip to Minnesota because of below-freezing temperatures.
“It’s a little different,” she said of watching Ayo on TV. “But we have all come to a collective conclusion that its the best thing.”
So what have they been doing to uphold their traditions watching Ayo on the television?
“We sit in the same seats,” she said.
Jamarra’s also still finding ways to interact with the Illini community during games — she’s more active on Twitter than ever before.
But that may come to a halt soon. Ayo has been called mature beyond his years on the court, but that applies off the court as well.
The soon-to-be 21-year-old has been so focused that he’s even been policing his mother’s Twitter account.
“Mom, you’re saying f**k too much,” Jamarra said Ayo told her. “Mom, you can’t do that. There’s a lot of eyes on us, and we can’t do anything that’s going to take attention off what our goal is.”
When your 21yr old scolds you for too many F bombs! ♀️— juh•mar•ruh Dosunmu (@prettybrngurl) January 8, 2021
When Dosunmu announced his return to Illinois last summer, he mentioned his many goals, including winning a national title.
Those are lofty aspirations for a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in nearly a decade, but behind Dosunmu's best season yet (24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game), the Illini have a fighting chance.
His announcement video also included numerous individual goals for this season, including winning honors like the Wooden Award (for best college basketball player) and the Bob Cousy Award (for the nation’s top point guard), both of which he has been named to watch lists for.
All the accolades he was pushing for, all while his No. 1 fan watches from home.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “I am in awe of his drive, his determination. It just amazes me because he is just 20 years old.”
And it’s not only the on-court prowess of her son that has been impressive to the mother of four.
“We have babied him for all of his life,” she said. “To now know that he is pretty much, honestly truly been on his own... that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Ayo hasn't seen his mother since early August when he moved into his apartment. For the first time, he didn’t join the family for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
The distance is taking its toll on Jamarra and the Dosunmu family. She says she has spent multiple nights in tears because she just misses her baby boy.
“I was in a funk, I have never been away from him for the holiday and I could not believe I was not going to see my child for Christmas.”
Jamarra was helped by her family to realize that the distance is a team effort for the Dosunmus, and that she can help Ayo by showing him she can handle the time away.
But she’s still talking to him.
And always by his side.
“We talk every day, maybe two [or] three times a day,” she said. “He’s the first person I talk to when I wake up. We FaceTime all day, in our family chat we text all day, so we’re in constant communication.”
On road trips, it’s Ayo’s dad Quam who stays up and waits until Ayo is home before he will go to bed.
“We know what’s going on every step of the way,” she said.
Earlier this month, the NCAA announced that the 2021 NCAA Tournament will be played across various sites in Indiana — and that players will be allowed a limited number of family members who are able to attend the game.
Good news for all, but especially exciting for Jamarra and the Dosunmus.
“We were very excited,” Jamarra said upon hearing the news. “And although we opted out of attending any games that you could attend games during conference play, when tourney play comes... we will be there in orange and blue, hollering and screaming from the stands like usual. We want to be a part of that, so we will definitely be there.”
The Illini have 13 more regular season games and a Big Ten Tournament to play before Selection Sunday on March 14. For Jamarra, that means she has to wait until at least March 18 to see her son in-person — the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve created a countdown for myself,” she said. “I just wanna see him, I just wanna touch him, I just wanna hug him.”
She just hopes that hug from mother to son comes after Illinois cuts the nets in Indianapolis.