While the Illini didn’t win a national championship and the exit was ultimately disappointing, Ayo Dosunmu did finish his business.
The All-American point guard has declared for the 2021 NBA Draft, announcing his decision Tuesday afternoon live on ESPN’s The Jump. It caps an extraordinary three-year career that saw the Illini go from as many as 21 losses to its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
We have done this dance with Dosunmu before — two times, in fact — but this time it is likely it for the potential first-round pick. Dosunmu said he hired an agent, meaning it takes away nay hope that the man they called the “Masked Mamba” at the end of his time in Orange and Blue will end up withdrawing his name from the draft and return to Champaign for a fourth and final season.
The reason he would have come back? Dosunmu promised #UnfinishedBusiness in 2020 when he gave Illini fans a jolt of energy amid the pandemic and announced his return for a third year under head coach Brad Underwood. And while he led the Illini to a top tournament seed and a half-game lead over Big Ten champion Michigan, Illinois faltered against No. 8 Loyola Chicago. It was a forgettable game for Dosunmu, as he scored just nine points, snapping a lengthy streak of double-digit scoring dating back to his sophomore season.
But it’s unfair to Dosunmu and to ourselves to judge his historic, legacy-making career on that one game while his jersey will soon hang in the rafters alongside Illini legends. In his junior year alone, the 6-foot-5 guard was named the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player; the only player in the country over the last 11 years to average 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game; was a finalist for Naismith Player of the Year; and won the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard.
There was also a marked improvement year over year when it came to Ayo, as a leader and as a player. On the court, his scoring, rebounds and assists improved each year. And he was durable, starting every game in his career until he unfortunately broke his nose and suffered a concussion against Michigan State in February. There’s a ton of other stats that tell the full story, as well, and I encourage you to check out the Athletic Department’s website dedicated to them.
And there was Ayo the leader and captain. He was clutch, the player you wanted with the ball as the clock was winding down. And he was reliable, even when the Illini were losing to the Ramblers in the Round of 32 on a off-day for the superstar, he was the one setting the standard, lifting up Andre Curbelo’s head as they walked to the locker room.
At the end of the day, Ayo Dosunmu brought Illinois Basketball back. He let us feel something again, which is all we ever wanted. And it came from the home state kid with a family bleeding Orange and Blue, the loudest group in the State Farm Center on any given night.
Thank you, Ayo.
The NBA Draft is set for July 29.