Ayo Dosunmu has attempted 240 3-pointers as a college player, so the shot is not foreign to him. He has connected on just 79 of those, or 32.9 percent, so making them sort of is.
This is what these next months have to be about now. Dosunmu had entered the NBA Draft with some promise following the aborted 2019-20 college basketball season, but his shooting always was going to be an obstacle to overcome.
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In announcing his decision to withdraw from the draft late Friday, with a video posted to his Twitter account, Dosunmu declared, “I need that national championship.” It was exactly the right thing to say, and it’s not entirely out of reach if center Kofi Cockburn, who needs another college year more than his point guard, also chooses to withdraw.
Dosunmu probably won’t get the championship or the lucrative draft position, though, without toning up his jumper.
Just about any draft-analyst evaluation of Dosunmu is going to mention his shooting. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic praised his pull-up jumper and high-level character to The Daily Illini student paper. But he raised the same issue: “You have to be able to shoot the basketball at a high level to be able to space the floor for his teammates. Otherwise, it is going to be harder for his team to get an efficient offense. … I do just worry about what his offensive role is at the next level if the jumper from behind the NBA 3-point line doesn’t translate.”
Dosunmu is a 6-5 point guard with great length who can get past defenders with his intelligence and elusiveness. He owns a competitive spirit the pros will value and a knack for the big shot. But the deep shot has come to rule the NBA game, and so far it has been beyond him.
It is not fantastic to believe he can master it, can make the enormous improvement necessary. In 2018-19, P.J. Washington of Kentucky jumped from 23.8 percent as a freshman to 42.3 as a sophomore. That increase, even in a season that included just 33 makes, was enough to get Washington drafted in the lottery.
Dosunmu declined from 35.2 percent and 50 makes as a freshman to just 29.6 percent and 29 made 3-pointers as a sophomore, even while the rest of his game was ascending. His 2-point accuracy increased from 48.5 percent to 54.4. He earned more free throws in fewer games, and his foul shooting went from 69.5 percent to 75.5.
Likely it was his burgeoning list of responsibilities that led him to retreat as a long-distance shooter. In his first season, Illinois was a rebuilding team, and there was little pressure regarding winning and losing. In 2019-20, in large part because of Dosunmu’s progress as a team leader and offensive weapon, Illinois compiled a 21-10 overall record and finished 13-7 in the Big Ten, just one game out of first.
The expectations will grow with Dosunmu back for another season. Illinois was picked to finish seventh last season. Depending on which other players return to college — such important players as Luka Garza, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry still have decisions to make — Illinois might not be picked to win the league this year. But it will be close, and the program’s fans will expect the team to contend.
And Dosunmu himself set the bar high with this pronouncement.
“Since [I was] a kid, I’ve been working. My dream is to play in the NBA,” he said in the video. “But first I need that national championship. Year 3.”
Illinois last reached the Final Four in 2005, when the Deron Williams-Dee Brown-Luther Head trio carried the team to the NCAA championship game and a close loss to North Carolina. Before that it was the “Flyin’ Illini” squad in 1989, which was the best team in college basketball but fell in the semis to Big Ten rival (and eventual champ) Michigan.
It is not easy to win that national championship. But it would be easier for Illinois if Dosunmu is out there this season busting threes.