Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu, who won a gold medal for Team USA during the U18 Americas Championship Tournament in 2018, averaged 16.6 points per game during his sophomore season.
Dosunmu, one of the 105 prospects who received among the most votes to be invited to the 2020 NBA Draft Combine, is officially listed “testing the waters” and could still return to the NCAA for another season of college basketball.
He recently caught up with HoopsHype about his basketball career thus far.
Note: This transcription has been very minorly edited for clarity.
Tell me a little bit about the creative announcement that you did to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft.
Ayo Dosunmu: My family was just sitting around thinking of ideas, thinking of unique ways to express that I would declare for the draft. It just came up just talking about it with my sisters. They had the idea that I should have went with that and it just looked cool. So I just said: Why not?
“Mr. WhyNotMe” is your Twitter handle. What does that phrase mean to you?
AD: It just was a phrase I used to use. I still use it but I mainly used it my freshman year because I really wasn’t known, really didn’t have any exposure with no rankings or anything like that. So that was just my motivation to just tell myself “why not me?” to achieve the next goal. That’s my motivation now. That’s basically just what I go off of.
It is surprising you were not ranked because you nearly averaged a triple-double in high school, winning multiple state titles. Why were they sleeping?
AD: They were paying attention to me to a certain degree. But I just felt like at that time in my career, they weren’t paying attention to me enough because I felt like I was winning. My team was winning. We were playing great basketball. But at the end of the day, you got to keep working hard and you will prove everyone wrong. I feel like I did that in my high school career.
I would love to hear about some of the highlights you had while playing in high school.
AD: I was blessed to win back-to-back state championships. That’s something that I was very proud of, my junior and senior year. My sophomore year, we were one won game from going to state. Winning is really what I’ll mostly look back on in my high school career. I felt like my senior year, I battled injuries. But at the end of the day, I got what matters most in that state championship. That will always be their history. My name will always be in history, winning state championships, that’s what I’m most proud of.
Then you stayed in Illinois to go to college. What made you decide to be local?
AD: Illinois was the best fit for me, not just basketball-wise, but as a whole. As a person, I feel like it helped me become a great person. When basketball is over, just building great relationships with so many different alumni from Illinois, just having that connection with jobs. Not even just me, but my kids, down the line. There is a great connection when you graduate from Illinois. So I feel like all of that factored into me choosing Illinois. At the end of the day, it was a program that I felt like had the pieces, had the coaching staff. All it was missing was a couple people who could make plays and help take them over the edge. I was blessed to be one of them.
That set a great precedent for a top-recruit like Adam Miller, who went to the same high school and played for the same AAU team that you did. What advice would you give him about the next steps of his journey?
AD: I just told him it was college. There are going to be ups and downs. You just take the good with the bad and never get too high, never get too low. That is pretty much what I tell any underclassmen that is coming into college. Stay focused. Stay focused on the big picture. There are going to be days where the going gets hard but you have to just think about the outcome and help you get through it.
Growing up in Illinois, who were some of your basketball inspirations?
AD: Being from Chicago, everyone knows the great hoopers and the great history of it. So the older I got, the more and more I learned about each and every hooper and where they came from. So the more I grew up, the more history I learned. It helped me a lot because seeing what they accomplished, I always wanted to try to outdo them and try to be better and that is just the competitiveness in me. Of course, seeing so many great guys come from Chicago has helped me become the player I am today.
What was the ceiling that your team could have had if March Madness had occurred?
AD: I feel like we could have gone far, so far that I can’t really tell you how far we would have gone. But I know we would have gone far. I know we had the talent. We had the pieces. We were gelling at the right time. We went through so much adversity at the beginning of the year and then towards the end of the year, we were really locking in, we were about to hit our peak. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the plan that God had. But I for sure think that we would have gone far.
Where do you see yourself playing on the floor at the next level?
AD: I see myself playing point guard at the next level. That’s my natural position. I was blessed with the God-given talent that I could play many, many different positions. But naturally, I’m a point guard. That’s where I’ll be best at the next level. I will do whatever the coach asks me to do. If he wants me to score, I’ll score. If he wants me to pass, I’ll pass. I’m just a winner. At the end of the day, I just want to do what I can to help the team win.
You mostly played at the wing last season. How has that helped you become a more well-rounded player?
AD: It is going to help a lot because I’m going to be able to be out there with another guard and the coach will trust us because naturally, I’m a point guard. Last year, it was great for me. College is really positionless basketball. But at the next level, it is going to help a lot, because whenever coach makes a sub and he has a guard out there, I can either play the combo guard or the point guard. So it is really an advantage for me.
What is your comfort as the ballhandler in pick-and-roll sets?
AD: I really got better in the pick and roll. I feel like that is something that grew on me. It is something that I showed that I can do well. It was fun to watch film, dissecting it. That helped me a lot in the pick and roll. There is always room to get better. But I felt like my show that part of my game great last year.
What are some things that you noticed about yourself when you were watching yourself in those situations?
AD: I really just want to watch it and just focus on my reads. When you are in the pick and roll, it’s like you are playing quarterback. You are watching where the defenders are coming from. Where are they helping from? Where is the open man? Just finding different outlets, finding different scenarios if a defender does this or if he does that. I feel like that is pretty much what I’m thinking about. Just scanning the whole court and seeing where the open men are.
I love watching you run the break as the ball handler in transition, too. How do you think that is going to be able to be a part of your game?
AD: That will be a great part of my game because at the next level, that is pretty much how the game is. It is a fast game. If you look at the Rockets, they had James Harden and pretty much all guards out there. So being able to push and get out on the break for the easy basket is going to be tremendous for the next level.
You can also create for yourself, shooting almost 60 percent on isolation attempts and over 40 percent on the dribble jumper. How have you been able to really master the craft of creating your own offense?
AD: Oh, that was something I really focused on over the summer. I really focused on that, getting my pull-ups – one-dribble pull-ups, two-dribble pull-ups. People say my three-point percentage dropped. But like you said, off the dribble and isolation and creating for myself increased drastically. I feel like it is all about putting the work in at the next level. That is another tool you have to succeed at the next level. You have to be able to create your own shot. There are so many pick and rolls, so many different pick and rolls. But there are also so many different opportunities where it is just you and one defender. You have to create for yourself because they are so big, so athletic, they’re strong. So that is something that I really focus on when I work out, just being able to create for myself and get to my jump shots and just make plays for my teammates. It is just about putting the work in. That is all I can say. I just get in the gym and practice the same shots that I will shoot in the game. I try to watch a lot of film and then go back and do the same plays. That is how you master something. You just keep getting reps at it, keep getting reps at it. Then at the end of the day, you feel so comfortable, your mind can take over and you will be able to succeed.
You also shot over really well within five feet of the basket. How would you rate yourself as an interior finisher?
AD: I feel like I can improve a lot. I feel like I still missed a lot of easy shots. I always work on my athleticism to turn those layups into dunks. I want to get bigger and stronger. So that’s what I’ve been really working on there.
You committed fouls at one of the lowest rates of anyone in your conference. How did you develop your defensive awareness to this level?
AD: I try to move my feet, not reach. Not use my hands. At the next level, that is something you are going to have to prove when guarding guys at my position like Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry. You can’t foul him. You have to just trust in your defense, trust in your lower body strength, trusting your feet. That is what I tried to do this year and I tried not to foul. I knew my team needed me out there to help make plays on both ends of the floor.
We might not have an NBA combine, which is incredibly frustrating. If we had a combine what are some of the drills that you think you do the best that with your athleticism?
AD: I feel like my vertical would shock a lot of people. It is something that I really want to try. If there was a combine, I could show my speed and my agility and my wingspan and all aspects of my game.
You have a wingspan that is even longer than your height. How do you use that to your advantage on the court?
AD: For sure. I can really feel my arms. It just helps me get through screens and help me deflect balls and helps me be able to finish over guys who are bigger defenders. That’s really the secret to how I shot so well from the close range is my long arms and using my height and using my arms to get my shots off.
When you speak to an NBA general manager, what is the most important thing for them to know about you?
AD: I’m just a winner. I love to win. That is something that all general managers have in common: they draft to win. Every year, they play for a championship. I’ve been blessed to be a winner. Pretty much all my life, I’ve been in positions where I have won or was in positions to win. That is really the one thing I will tell them. No matter what role you give me, my main goal is to help the team win.
You played AAU with NBA players like Talen Torton-Tucker. What advice have you received from them?
AD: I’ve talked to a lot of guys, like Deron Williams. A lot of guys in the NBA, I’m pretty cool with and I have conversations with. They just tell me to the importance of keeping my body right, keep my mind right and not just try and have a goal of playing in the NBA for three or four years. But actually having longevity in it and having a plan. Just make a plan and then trying to execute the plan.
You are also a gold medalist playing for Team USA. How did that experience help shape you?
AD: It was a great experience. I look at that as a great achievement for myself. When I got the invite to come try out, there were about one hundred people there. There were a lot of great players there so to know that I made the cut to twelve was a great achievement, but it was a fun experience just traveling and getting to do what I love and win a gold medal and being in a conversation with all of the other great players who have won a gold medal. It was a great achievement for me. Winning a gold medal is something that does not just happen every year. It is something that I cherish a lot.
What are some of the goals that you have for yourself in the NBA?
AD: Of course, I want to win a championship. That is probably my main goal right now. Because winning is everything and that’s really how you get judged when your career is over. Winning is everything with me.
Is there anything off the court that you would like to accomplish?
AD: When I’m done playing basketball, I hope to achieve a job as either a broadcaster or something of that nature. I really want to be like Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and those guys, sitting back and talking about the game of basketball. I feel like that is very fun for those guys, especially who have had great Hall of Fame careers. That is definitely something I want to do when I get older. I took communication classes and journalism classes.
Who are some of the biggest motivating people that are in your life?
AD: My family is my “why” and I’m just trying to keep working and give them a better life, give everyone around me a better life. That is really my main goal. That is why I go hard and keep getting better and better each day. They put in so much time and effort, so many hours in the gym, so many long car rides to help me get to where I am. It is only right if I can keep going hard and try to return the favor and make up for the years that they helped me out.
How did you first fall in love with basketball?
AD: Growing up, playing it so much, it was so fun. At a young age, writing goals down and seeing guys in the NBA and telling myself I want to be there. I told myself that one day, I’m going to get there. The more and more that I watched Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and those great guys, it made me fall in love with the game even more.
When you are not playing basketball, what are some things that you like to do?
AD: Video games. I love video games. I switch between 2K and Call of Duty. I play in MyCareer, MyPark, MyLeague. When I’m in the park, I have a slashing playmaker. He is like LeBron. He looks like LeBron. He plays like LeBron. I think I would have won the 2K tournament. I’m really good at 2K. But for Call of Duty, I only play Warzone.
Do you have any builds of players in 2K that play like yourself?
AD: No. I don’t do that. I told myself I would not do that until I actually get in one. Once I get in there, though, I’m going to play as myself and make him raw.
I’m also curious: Any favorite musicians or artists or anything like that?
AD: I have a couple. I like YoungBoy Never Broke Again. He is my favorite artist right now. He makes good music, to me. I like his music and the way his songs beat.