By Bill Figel
“Ayo Dosunmu is growing up before our very eyes,” screamed Stacy King, the Chicago Bulls’ popular television broadcast analyst who was coming out of his seat at the scorer’s table last week after another dazzling scoring move by the Bulls rookie.
“Growing up before our very eyes” might also apply to those in the Beverly/Morgan Park community who have watched Chicago native Dosunmu blossom at Morgan Park High School, flourish at the University of Illinois and perform in his rookie year like a lottery pick instead of a second-round choice of his hometown Chicago Bulls organization.
The gangly, spirited, all-purpose guard – with an ultra hip court-jester hairdo – sported a No. 3 jersey of hero Dwayne Wade, who played for the Bulls in one memorable season in 2016 and won three NBA titles before retiring.
The similarities run deep for the two. Both are native Chicagoans listed as 6’4”
point guards who have a knack for getting better with age, experience and the next challenge.
No one has had a better seat to the seemingly similar maturation process than Morgan Park’s Jack Fitzgerald, the former Leo Hall of Fame coach who helped Wade hone his skills at Richard’s High School, launching an illustrious career at Marquette University before entering the NBA.
“Both Ayo and Dwayne went far beyond everyone’s expectations,” said Fitzgerald, currently the Miami Heat’s pro scout in the Midwest responsible for evaluating prospective players on both the professional and collegiate levels.
“As a scout the only question about Ayo was his outside shooting and that’s why he was a second-round pick,” Fitzgerald said. “But the way he’s playing now he should have clearly been a first-rounder. Both he and Dwayne are just so fast up court with the ball.”
During his scouting stints of Big Ten basketball, Fitzgerald thought Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter’s description of Dosunmu was most appropriate calling the streaking, zigzag dribbler “a professional layup maker.”
For the bulk of the season, Dosunmu has been shooting at a 55% clip from the field and 44% from beyond the arc, while league-wide 3-point percentage is 39.2%, an increase that is changing the game and making marksmen like Dosunmu even more valuable to teams.
Dosunmu has shown no signs of hitting the “Rookie Wall” an occurrence when the grind of a long pro season takes a mental and physical toll on first-year players who played but a third of the college games found on an NBA regular season schedule.
Dosunmu’s trajectory this season builds an argument for why he may be the exception. In fact his approach to every challenge may hold the answer to how his rookie season and career may skyrocket.
Dusumnu points to his days at Morgan Park High School, playing in the ruthlessly aggressive Chicago’s Public League as preparation for all life’s challenges.
“It helped me because a lot of the guys who were stronger and older played with a chip on their shoulder,” said Dosunmu. “Everyone in the Chicago Public League competed and made people work harder, which built my competitive spirit.”
On Dec. 6, 2021, Dosunmu got his first professional start due to Bulls players being shelved by the pandemic.
Unlike most players who are introduced to the crowd linked to their respective college, Dosunmu bolted onto the United Center court to a homemade introduction “From Chicago . . .”
Dosunmu later told the reporters in post-game press conference: “I like to be proud to say I’m from Chicago because I know the ups and downs of the city. I’ve been here my whole life. I’ve seen so many things, so many tragedies. For me to be in this position doing what I love at the highest level, any time I get the opportunity to show love to where I came from, I always love to do that.”
The post-game interviews also revealed that when Bulls coach Billy Donovan informed the rookie an hour before the game he was drawing his the starting assignment, the budding Chicago idol was “unfazed” to make his first career start.
As good as – or better – than his next challenge, Dosunmu played 42 minutes tallying 11 points with six rebounds and eight assists in a victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Donovan shared more with the media saying the youngster had “earned” the NBA start at point guard with his play.
“It’s got to be an incredible experience for him just growing up in Chicago,” Donovan said. “Who would have ever told him when he was seven years old sitting on his couch, ‘Hey, someday you’re going to play for the Chicago Bulls.’ Right?”
Dosunmu shared even more in the post-season news conference: “You always want to be ready, but the hard thing mentally is not knowing when that opportunity is going to happen. Those 82 games, you never know when your opportunity is going to be called upon.”
Donovan went on the record to say, “He wants the truth. He wants to get better, he wants to grow. He wants to hear what he’s got to do to improve.
“For me as a coach, when you see a young man with that much hunger and desire to want to be good — he wants to hear it all – and I really, really respect that about him.”