Morgan Park senior Ayo Dosunmu helped change the outlook of Illinois basketball on Thursday as the 6-foot-4 guard committed to the Illini and new head coach Brad Underwood.
Deciding between his two finalists of Illinois and Wake Forest on the darkened second floor of the Jordan Brand Store on State Street, Dosunmu kept fans of both teams in suspense throughout the entire week. With his inner circle changing all of their Twitter avatars to black and Dosunmu wearing all black clothing to school on Thursday, there were no leaks from Dosunmu's camp on where he might end up.
But after a brief introduction video played, displaying Dosunmu's #whynotme catchphrase at the end, the lanky senior emerged from a back hallway. Ditching the blackout theme from earlier in the day, Dosunmu slowly walked into the light of his press conference, in front of teammates, family and friends, revealing a crisp white polo with a bright orange Block I.
Without saying a word, Dosunmu's presence in the white Illinois polo changed everything for the future of Illinois basketball.
"I just want to bring good days back for basketball at Illinois and I want to be one of the cornerstones to start it off," Dosunmu said.
The frontrunner to win Mr. Basketball in the state this season, Dosunmu is a colossal catch for Underwood as it means the Illini could have back-to-back Mr. Basketball winners as their future backcourt. After landing Edwardsville guard and Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith last spring, considering that Underwood has yet to even coach a game at Illinois, he is already doing a superb job of keeping in-state talent at home.
Although Underwood had to play catch up on Dosunmu once he took the job coming from Oklahoma State this spring, he made an intelligent hire in assistant coach and Chicago native Ronald "Chin" Coleman to help bridge the gap. A former coach at Whitney Young and with the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, Coleman has recruited Chicago kids at multiple Division I stops before landing with Illinois this spring.
Coleman had an advantage when it came to recruiting Dosunmu. Not only was Coleman a former coach with Dosunmu's AAU program, but he also gave Dosunmu his first scholarship offer while he was an assistant coach at UIC. Even though national programs like Kansas and USC came calling, Dosunmu opted to stay close to home as loyalty is important to him.
"Me and Coach Coleman have a great relationship. He offered me my first scholarship. So, as a teenager, you never forget that," Dosunmu said.
With Coleman opening the door, Underwood and the rest of Illinois recruited Dosunmu as hard as possible. Underwood sold his fast-paced offense, promising to put the ball in Dosunmu's hands right away in a young backcourt that would also feature Smith, freshman Trent Frazier and sophomore Te'Jon Lucas as a solid perimeter core to build around.
""They like to play fast, I like to play fast," Dosunmu said.
"[Underwood] told me I could have the ball right away. He told me that I can be one of the freshmen playing the most minutes coming out so we sat there and talked about a lot of things."
Once Dosunmu took an official visit to Champaign to see campus last weekend he was sold after spending time with his future teammates. During one particular conversation, Dosunmu was playing NBA 2K18 with Smith as the two discussed what it might be like playing together.
"He said we can be the best backcourt and that if I have his back he has my back," Dosunmu said.
"I think it can be scary."
Illinois hasn't had the kind of talent to produce a "scary" backcourt in the last few years but now with Smith, Frazier, Lucas and Dosunmu the Illini should have more than enough firepower to help run Underwood's high-octane offense.
It might take some time for such a young backcourt to gel, but all four of those pieces have a chance to be a major part of Illinois rebuilding into a perennial NCAA tournament contender.
Underwood still has to finish out the Class of 2018 and find more interior players to compete in the rugged Big Ten, but for the first time in years, there is reason to be very optimistic about the outlook of Illinois basketball.