As Illinois looks to stay undefeated in Big Ten play tonight against Maryland, it will undoubtedly be an emotional night at the State Farm Center. The Illini are celebrating "Ayo Night" by welcoming Ayo Dosunmu back for a slate of festivities that will include his jersey ascending to the rafters at halftime. Anyone who watched Dosunmu blossom over the course of his college career should be dialed into ESPN2 at 6 PM CST.
Dosunmu's Impact on Illinois
Dosunmu will always be looked at as the catalyst of bringing Illinois basketball back to promise. The former five-star recruit from Morgan Park was the first top-tier athlete Illinois was able to lure out of Chicago under Brad Underwood, despite the aftermath of the John Groce firing.
Dosunmu's commitment led to the Illini recruiting Peoria native Adam Miller, who later transferred to Morgan Park and eventually signed his national letter of intent with Illinois.
Despite the fact that Miller transferred to LSU last offseason, it has not stopped Illinois from recruiting Chicago-based athletes. Ty Rodgers, a Michigan native that transferred to Thornton, Ill. and currently plays for Chicago-based AAU team MeanStreets, recently committed to Illinois.
Chicago native Dain Dainja announced his commitment to Illinois recently as well after entering the transfer portal last season.
All in all, the Chicago pipeline opened up for Illinois because of Dosunmu's commitment. For years, critics always said Illinois could not lure Chicago's top athletes. Derrick Rose went to Memphis, Anthony Davis headed to Kentucky, and Jabari Parker attended Duke.
This trend ended because of Dosunmu, plus Underwood's ability to recruit. Illini nation should be incredibly thankful for Ayo and his years spent at a level he probably didn't need to be at for three seasons.
Dosunmu finished his career at Illinois ranked 12th on the career scoring list with 1,504 points, a scoring average of 20.1 points, which is the highest by an Illini in the last 30 seasons. He was also the first player to lead Illinois in scoring as a freshman, sophomore, and junior, and he is the only player in college basketball over the last 11 seasons to average at least 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
"This Won't End Well For Illinois"
Ayo Dosunmu's early years at Illinois were not fun. The Illini finished 12-21 in his freshman season, making them one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. However, "The Closer" did earn a Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection. Dosunmu led the Illini in scoring for the season (13.8 points per game) and had arguably his best game of the season at home against No. 9 Michigan State. Dan Dakich probably remembers.
Despite the bad season, signs indicated Illinois was trending upward.
The Closer in Ann Arbor
Dosunmu's sophomore year was a rollercoaster for Illini fans. The team had low expectations due to recent history, but Illinois finished the season with its first winning record in two seasons and first 10-loss season since the 2008-09 campaign.
Dosunmu grew into a household name in the Big Ten by averaging 16.6 points per game, good for fifth-best in the conference. Illinois' lead guard ignited an exciting road win at Michigan thanks to his buzzer-beating jumper at the free-throw line with 0.5 seconds left, leaving the maize and blue faithful heartbroken on Jan. 27, 2020.
Dosunmu finished that contest with a season-high 27 points. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois missed the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight season. However, the Illini would have easily earned an at-large bid after the memorable season it became.
On Feb. 6 last season, Ayo Dosunmu had a career night when he became the third Illini to record a triple-double. He finished with 21 points, a career-high 12 rebounds, and a career-high 12 assists in a 15-point victory over Wisconsin.
Wisconsin's Brad Davison absolutely hated playing basketball that night as he scored zero points on 0-of-6 shooting while Dosunmu absolutely dominated him from start to finish.
Dosunmu proceeded to record the fourth triple-double in school history against Minnesota, posting 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a blowout win over the Gophers. He joined Michigan State's Magic Johnson as the only other player in Big Ten history with multiple triple-doubles in conference play.
Illinois was building momentum toward earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Ayo was making a case to win the Bob Cousy Point Guard Award.
Masked Ayo Helps Win the Big Ten Tournament
After suffering a facial injury late last season, Dosunmu started calling himself the "Masked Mamba" in honor of the late Kobe Bryant.
Dosunmu broke his nose against Michigan State in one of Illinois' final games before the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite the injury, he helped lead Illinois to its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2005.
Gone But Not Forgotten
The Ayo Dosunmu era may have ended sourly after a heartbreaking loss to Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament, but he will always be remembered and appreciated by the Illini faithful.
The standing ovation he will receive at halftime of tonight's game will be well deserved.