Even as Illini legend Ayo Dosunmu begins his second season with the Chicago Bulls after an impressive All-Rookie campaign last season, his impact is still being felt in Champaign, as other programs hope to stoke their own renaissances with an Ayo of their own.
As Illini fans know, Dosunmu in the 2018 class was the highest ranked in-state recruit to commit to the Illini since Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard, the latter also being the last Illini to be selected in the NBA Draft until Dosunmu broke the spell in 2021.
Beyond the recruiting rankings and eventual NBA success, Dosunmu was the center piece that sparked the basketball revival in Champaign and put Brad Underwood’s program back on the map, setting the standard for what an “Every Day Guy” looks like and uplifting his own basketball future and his home state school at the same time.
New women’s basketball coach Shauna Green and second-year Illini football coach Bret Bielema also made note of Dosunmu’s impact by stating their desires to find an Ayo of their own for their respective programs, as they look to grow the brand of their sports with in-state athletes.
The Power of Ayo
As Underwood looks to begin a new generation of his Illini basketball team with the graduation of stalwarts Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams and the early departure of All-American Kofi Cockburn, Underwood was able to leverage some of Dosunmu’s cache by sealing the deal with high level Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. and snag a commitment from former Kentucky commit Skyy Clark.
Both players felt a connection with Dosunmu.
Shannon was hosted by Dosunmu as a high school recruit when Dosunmu was a freshman at Illinois, and the two maintained a connection and respect for each other’s games. Dosunmu’s success and similar playing style, along with the additional of the well-connected Tim Anderson to Underwood’s staff, likely went a long way to securing Shannon’s commitment to the program this offseason.
With Skyy Clark’s recruitment, Underwood pitched his vision for Clark’s development by showing tape of Dosunmu at Illinois, illustrating the impact he believes he can have for the Illini on the court. This pitch resonated with Clark, as he felt the Dosunmu example provided plan for what he can accomplish in Champaign.
Beyond the men’s basketball program, Dosunmu has shown that, along with an improved supporting cast, the right athlete — both athletically and character wise — can dramatically turn a program around in a hurry. Illini women’s basketball coach Shauna Green and football coach Bret Bielema noted as much.
#illini Bret Bielema said he's using Ayo Dosunmu's story to sell to in-state recruits.— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) March 24, 2021
"I'm looking for that Ayo."
Bielema has placed a renewed focus on recruiting in-state athletes to Champaign and stated he was “looking for that Ayo” to help revive Illini football, a pitch that helped secure the commitment of 4-star in-state running back Kaden Feagin. Green has also used a similar approach noting that she uses Dosunmu as an example of what in-state prospects can mean to her program.
Underwood has acknowledged how difficult it is to win and how it takes the right guy or class to get things turned around, but he’s clearly set the standard for other coaches to follow who want to experience that level of success in Champaign.
For Dosunmu’s part, he’s continued making his mark as a hard working, humble kid, earning accolades from his Bulls teammates and the front office that echo the praises that followed him from Champaign.
As each of these coaches continue to build and grow their respective programs, Ayo’s example can be guiding light for what a successful program looks like and provide a compelling message to sell on the recruiting trail.