On Tuesday, the Big Ten announced that Luka Garza was the Big Ten Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Garza had a great year, but this also meant that Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu was snubbed for the award.
Without question, Dosunmu had a historic season. He finished as the first player in the last 11 seasons nationally to average 20 points, six rebounds and five assists per game. He was on a short list of players to notch a triple-double this season — and one of just three players to pick up two triple-doubles (the only in a power conference). He also became the first Big Ten player to pick up a triple-double against a ranked team (Wisconsin) since Magic Johnson.
But Dosunmu also had his fair share of epic moments beyond the pair of triple-doubles. He hit daggers in games to push Illinois ahead against Northwestern, Indiana and Nebraska, and most recently sported a mask and played superhero in the Illini’s regular season finale win over then No. 7 Ohio State where he scored five unanswered points in the game’s closing minutes.
All of those magnificent moments despite missing three games due to a broken nose and a concussion suffered against Michigan State — but the numbers certainly speak for themself.
The accolades have been piling up, he won a trio of Big Ten Player of the Week awards over the season and was named a Sporting News All-American and earned a unanimous All-Big Ten First Team selection. Dosunmu remains on the finalist lists for the Wooden Award (most outstanding player), Naismith Award (national player of the year), and Bob Cousy Award (best point guard).
But at this point, it’s almost guaranteed he’ll never win an award for being the best player in his conference.
Illini fans, and even Brad Underwood, disagree with the Big Ten’s decision.
“In Ayo’s case, maybe unfortunate that he missed three games,” Underwood said. “He’s Player of the Year in my opinion.”
But Dosunmu and the Illini won't dwell on getting snubbed, they still have more to prove in an atmosphere his coach thinks he was made for.
“He’s built for this,” Underwood said.
But Ayo has his sights set on the Big Ten Tournament right now.
“That’s the most important award right now,” Dosunmu said of the conference tournament. ‘Winning the Big Ten championship, that’s where my focus is at.”
Dosunmu mentioned that everyone knows how the Illini feel about the Big Ten regular season title.
“The only thing we can do is keep winning,” he said.
But the junior guard also mentioned the fact that the Illini are finally in the postseason, inching toward their goals. It’s a set of goals that the team didn’t get a chance to reach last year because of COVID-19.
“We’re one step closer,” Dosunmu said. “The job isn't finished. We have a lot of more work to do to finish off this great season we’re having.”
But as the Illini make their way to Indianapolis, Dosunmu’s trophy case and list of accomplishments is only growing. With a mask on for the rest of the way, Dosunmu is preparing to check off the final two goals on the Illini’s check list.
“I’m packing like I’m gonna be there for a month.”