Rookie Ayo Dosunmu enters Bulls training camp as the 38th overall selection in the 2021 Draft. Coach Billy Donovan and DeMar DeRozan have already noticed palpable toughness and confidence from the young guard, who hopes to find a role and be a part of the rotation entering his first season.
He came to college with a big reputation, though not immediately a big game. But it developed and by the time he left he was among the nation's elite, a collegiate All-American. But then he had to start all over again after falling to the second round of the NBA draft and being selected 38th overall by the Bulls.
Yes, Ayo Dosunmu, too.
Dosunmu reminds me a little bit of Chris Duhon, the celebrated Duke guard the Bulls drafted in the second round—also, yes, at No. 38, in 2004—when no one said there was much of a place for him on a team loaded with guards and perimeter players. Back then, in fact, the Bulls tried to persuade Duhon to play for a year overseas before returning to the Bulls. Duhon thanked the Bulls for the suggestion, but he ignored it. He said he'd work his way into the lineup.
Duhon that rookie season went on to start 73 games for a Bulls team that won 47 games.
No one expects that of the 6-5 All-American star guard from the University of Illinois with the Bulls acquisitions of point guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. But, of course, no one expected that of the hard working, defensive-oriented Duhon with Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, former Illinois first round selection Frank Williams, and veterans like Jannero Pargo, Erik Piatkowski and Andres Nocioni on the roster. We perhaps shouldn't underestimate the hard working, defensive-oriented Donunmu.
"The scrimmages and practices have been great," Dosunmu said after practice Saturday. "I come out here each and every day and compete to make our team better. They've been using me as a point guard on the second unit and a combo guard on the second unit, someone who will go out there and make guys better, use my playmaking skills and also being tenacious on defense. Running the floor, playing the right way, trying just to carve a role out on the team.
"I see myself whenever my number is called going out there and playing as hard as I can on the defensive end and making the right reads on the offensive end," Dosunmu said. "Scoring, facilitating, playing hard; you know, playing the right way. That's all it is, playing basketball the right way."
It might just take you farther than others believe.
Ayo Dosunmu was the Bob Cousy award winner for the nation's best collegiate point guard during his final season at Illinois.
That's been something of the trajectory for the Chicago born son of Nigerian immigrants who started at Westinghouse High School in a lesser competitive division and transferred to Morgan Park High School as a sophomore. But Dosunmu was content to support upperclassman Charlie Moore, defend and distribute even as his coach encouraged more offense. Just make the right plays, Dosunmu figured. He went on to state titles and was a surprise matriculant at Illinois, where he began his run as a modest scorer on a 12-21 team. But Dosunmu's unselfish and relentless work ethic and play led to a Big 10 title and recognition as the nation's top point guard.
Though the pros were not quite as impressed as Dosunmu lasted until well into the second round of the draft. Shot not good enough, not a natural point guard. Maybe a little too much like that guy, you know, Duhon?
DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls new free agent forward has the team's most playoff experience. He knows what a player looks like, and he says he sees it in Dosunmu.
"He's pretty damn good," DeRozan said after Saturday's practice. "I remember him in college as well, watching him play all through the Summer League. Very tough, very tough. Creative with the ball, aggressive. Great touch around the rim. His ability to score the ball is amazing. Every single day he goes out there to take on the challenge to go out there and compete. Nothing but high praise for him; the talent that he has, he's going to be a hell of a player."
It's difficult to discern a prominent role now for Dosunmu, not that it's necessary in his rookie season. After all, it took Dosunmu awhile both in high school and college. But the Bulls have been impressed with the basketball maturity of the 21-year-old, the way the game doesn't dominate him. The Bulls say Dosunmu has shown a unique ability to play with the pace required. Most NBA rookies usually are surprised by the pro game's speed. But Dosumnu apparently has not gotten rattled on the offensive end.
Ayo Dosunmu observes practice along with Alex Caruso and Troy Brown Jr.
On the defense end, he's been relentless. And sometimes a team that can score, like those 2004 Bulls with Eddy Curry and Ben Gordon, needs more defense. Which has been a critique of outsiders about the Bulls' prospects this season.
"He's been really impressive to me," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said about Dosumnu. "I think just his competitive spirit. He's not afraid. He throws himself in there. He works on the defensive end of the floor. He gets into the teeth of the defense. He gets by people. He gets to his spots. He's got a lot to learn, but I think the makeup and the mindset and his competitive spirit, you can see that every day. He's got a lot of confidence and belief in himself. But it doesn't cross over into a place of arrogance or ‘got it all figured out.' Or, ‘I know better than everybody else.' I think he really believes in his ability, but he also has got this humility that he wants to learn."
Dosunmu has done that working regularly with assistant and Hall of Fame point guard Mo Cheeks. Dosumnu says he shoots daily with Lonzo Ball and seeks out information from the veterans like its collegiate finals week.
"It's been great," said Dosunmu. "Me being a rookie this is the best time to absorb as much knowledge as I can because coming right in there's not going to be much asked of me. Anything that I want I have to go out and prove each and every day in practice; that's what I'm trying to do. I shoot with Zo every day after practice. Just building a relationship there. I talk with a lot of guys. I ask a ton of questions; just trying to get better each and every day. That's all it is. Each and every practice getting in the best shape I can be, being the best teammate I can be because in an 82-game season be ready whenever my number is called."
There's also something of a minimalist approach to it for maximum results. Especially when they have a No. 38 sign for you and few believe there's a home for now.
"I want to get better," said Dosumnu. "That's the whole mindset. I think if I try to get better, if it's an inch, a little small inch of getting better at my game, getting better at learning how to be a better professional, it goes a long way."
Like Chris Duhon knows, you don't want to write off a competitor.