CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Ayo Dosunmu will be in the house Thursday night to watch a banner with his jersey on it get raised to the rafters of State Farm Center. Less than a year after leaving Illinois following a historic three-year run in Orange and Blue, the current Chicago Bulls rookie will forever cement his place in Illini lore at halftime of Illinois’ game against Maryland.
“I’m excited for one because that’s a dream come true for any kid in Chicago, not just for it be your jersey retired in the banner forever but for it to by my home state, that’s exciting,” Dosunmu said before Bulls practice on Wednesday.
Dosunmu qualified for the honored Illinois jersey program by becoming a First Team All-American last season for the Illini, leading the team to a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, Big Ten tournament championship and 24-7 record. The Chicago native was drafted 38th overall by the Bulls in the second round of July’s NBA Draft and will make just his second trip back to Champaign on Thursday, after receiving his Big Ten title ring during a ceremony before the Indiana (PA) game in October.
“I’m really happy for him and I think people are really really proud of what he’s done and accomplished in his career and I think for him to be honored by the school is a great thing,” Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s something he’s always going to be remembered for the rest of his life, the contributions he made to the school.”
The Illini (10-3, 3-0) will play their second game in three days on Thursday, hosting Maryland in a 6 p.m. game on ESPN2. Illinois has won its first three games to start Big Ten play for the first time since the 2010-11 season and is playing some of its best basketball of the season. Despite coming off a 13-day break between games after a post Christmas COVID-19 pause, Illinois showed no rust in Minneapolis on Tuesday night, blasting the Gophers 76-53. Kofi Cockburn put up a game high 29 points and 10 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double, as the Illini outscored the Gophers 42-18 in the paint, to go along with a 52-26 advantage on the boards.
“I thought we grew, I thought we did a nice job defensively and then I thought offensively, we played the way they allowed us to play,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. “They were pretty dialed in on Trent and Alfonso, not giving them 3s and that just allowed Kofi to operate. I thought we did a nice job of finding him. Jacob Grandison was sensational again and all in all just a very good team effort.”
Underwood said he practiced his team hard on Wednesday back at State Farm Center. The Illini have had one quick turn this season, playing back-to-back days at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City the week of Thanksgiving.
“It’s more mental for us, just being locked in the whole time and ready to go,” Illinois senior Da’Monte Williams said about playing games so close together.
“It’s definitely harder mentally,” Cockburn added. “We rely more on the mental side of it, locking in on film and personnel. It’s definitely going to be challenging but it’s something we can do.”