CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — NBA rookie Ayo Dosunmu has quickly carved out a role as a two-way player off the bench for the first-place Chicago Bulls. His success stems from his well-decorated collegiate career that was so good, no player for Illinois men's basketball will ever wear No. 11 again.
The Illini honored Dosunmu and raised his jersey in the rafters of State Farm Center in Champaign during halftime of Thursday's 76-64 win over Maryland.
The 21-year-old became the 34th player in school history to have his number retired.
“I’m excited,” Dosunmu said prior to the festivities. “That’s a dream come true. Being a kid in Chicago, your jersey retired in the banners forever in my home state, that’s very exciting.”
During his junior year (2020-21), Dosunmu averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists en route to becoming the first Big Ten player since 2010 to average a 20-6-5 statline. Dosunmu also totaled the most accolades ever by an Illinois player: USA Today National Player of the Year, Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year, and consensus first-team All-American honors.
Led by Dosunmu, the Illinois 2020-21 team finished 24-7 (16-4, Big Ten) and were crowned conference tournament champions for the first time since 2005.
The Chicago native was selected by his hometown Bulls with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft.
He's played a pivotal role coming of the bench for Chicago who sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 25-10 record.
Among those in attendance on Thursday was Bulls forward Demar DeRozan who made the two-hour drive in bitterly cold temperatures to support his teammate during a historic night.
The toughness and physicality Dosunmu has brought with his defense has translated well at the NBA level. It's one of the reasons Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has made the rookie a key member of his rotation.
Donovan recalled a post-draft conversation with Illinois head coach Brad Underwood who highlighted Dosunmu's skills and intangibles during their time together in Champaign.
“Brad and I after the draft talked a lot about Ayo and Brad’s got an enormous amount of respect for him,” Donovan said. “Everything Brad and I talked about as it relates to Ayo, he was 100 percent on point in all the things he says he was as a competitor and as a team guy and as a worker."
Dosunmu's three seasons at Illinois were also part of a turnaround for Underwood and the program that had not qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2012-13, and had not finished with a conference record above .500 since the 2009-10 campaign.
"He's the essence of what our program was going through when we were building," Underwood said. "I've got tremendous respect for Ayo for sticking through it, continuing to work, allowing us to coach him in a way that helped establish our culture. I couldn't be happier (and) prouder of an individual...I'm proud that I was able to coach Ayo."
The leader Dosunmu molded himself into during his college days resulted in an immortal honor at his alma mater. Now that same trait and his basketball skillset has more people taking notice, all while helping his team win.
The result of multiple NBA franchises passing on his selection through the first 37 picks of last summer's draft turned into a hidden gem for the team he grew up rooting for.
It's almost like things couldn't have worked out any better for both Dosunmu and the Bulls, as if it were all meant to be.