Looks Like University Of Illinois - Ayo Dosunmu
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The first one, for me, was Sherron Collins. I know there was the whole Shaun Livingston thing, but Livingston was always headed to the NBA. Collins was the first "in order to continue being Illinois basketball, we have to land him" recruit. That's really how I see it.
And yes, Julian Wright was a thing in 2005. But for whatever reason, he wasn't in that MUST GET place for me. Collins - Collins was going to be The Next Great Illini Guard after Dee and Deron.
So if we can put the Cliffs and the Michael Dunigans aside for a moment (not saying they weren't huge whiffs - just saying I'm looking for The Next Great Illini Guard, the The Next Great Illini Frontcourt Player), we see that there have been so many moments where we might land the Next one.
And I might as well get this out of the way up front - yes, I do still trace it all to recruiting. Yes, I understand that coaching is important (and I think we have a pretty good one now). But the single reason, to me, that we fell from being ILLINI BASKETBALL to illini basketball over the last 12 years is that we never landed The Next Great Illini Guard.
Sherron Collins went to Kansas and won a national championship. Jon Scheyer went to Duke and won a national championship. Wayne Blackshear went to Louisville and won a national championship. Jalen Brunson went to Villanova and won a national championship. And you didn't just have to win a title. Iman Shumpert went to Georgia Tech. Demetrius Jackson went to Notre Dame. Jawun Evans went to Oklahoma State. So many opportunities for The Next Great Illini Guard - the next Bruce Douglas, the next Frankie Williams, the next Dee Brown - and we whiffed.
First it was Mark Smith. Pay no attention to his ranking - he didn't have a single Power Five offer until January of his senior year, so your Jerry Meyers and your Van Colemans never once saw him play basketball. How could they rank him if they don't even know who he is? All you really need to know was that he won Mr. Basketball in Illinois (over players ranked in the top-100 like Jeremiah Tilmon and Jordan Goodwin) and that he came down to Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke, and Illinois. I'd say he's a player who would be rated right around #35 if he had gone through the "system" of basketball recruiting rankings.
And to him, we add #24. Why is that number important? Because it ties for the highest number we've seen since Dee Brown. As you probably know, I'm a slave to the RSCI (Recruiting Services Consensus Index), to the point where I'm now email pen pals with Jeff, the guy who puts it together. He's been doing the list since 1998, and here's the (updated) complete list of Illini recruits in the RSCI since then:
19 Dee Brown
20 Brian Cook
21 Frank Williams
24 Ayo Dosunmu
24 Jereme Richmond
28 Richard McBride
29 Meyers Leonard
35 DJ Richardson
36 Alex Legion
37 Jalen Coleman-Lands
46 Leron Black
48 Deron Williams
49 Brandon Paul
49 Brian Carlwell
53 Brian Randle
57 Kendrick Nunn
62 Roger Powell
65 Mike Shaw
66 Myke Henry
69 Tracy Abrams
70 Malcolm Hill
71 Demitri McCamey
76 Crandall Head
77 Shaun Pruitt
77 Nick Smith
78 James Augustine
78 Nnanna Egwu
78 DJ Williams
86 Aaron Spears
90 Mark Smith
So just from that I think it's easy to say "best recruit since Dee Brown". He's tied with Jereme Richmond in the rankings, but the baggage attached to Richmond (his high school suspensions, etc.) were warning signs of what we eventually saw (3/4 of a season, then "declaring" for the draft, then arrested and jailed). With Dosunmu, I really do think it's safe to say "best recruit since Dee Brown".
And it's not just that. He's the best Chicago Public League recruit since... Deon Thomas in the late 80's? Can that be true? I think it is. Back when I was an obsessed teenage fan in the late 80's, we used to feast on the CPL. It was a big part of the Elite Eight in 1984 and the Final Four in 1989. Nick Anderson, Efrem Winters, Lowell Hamilton, Marcus Liberty, Deon Thomas - Jimmy Collins had us plugged in with the Chicago high schools. That faded over time (really, Simeon was the only high school which was sending recruits our way), but this is a big step towards repairing that divide.
(Also - Ayo is totally going to be Mr. Basketball in Illinois this winter, giving us two in a row.)
How does he fit onto future rosters? Well, I think we can say that, barring any early-entrants into the NBA Draft, we're more or less completely set in the backcourt for the next 3-4 years. You have these two Mr. Basketballs as the anchors, but you also have Te'Jon Lucas, Trent Frazier, and Da'Monte Williams. Just with those five, I feel better about the Illini backcourt than I have since, oh gosh, 2005? Well, maybe that's not true. I felt really good when BP3 and DJ signed up to join McCamey. But with two Mr. Basketballs, this makes me feel better.
Why better? Because I believe that college basketball games are won by having a true difference-maker on the roster. A Frank Williams who makes everyone look better. A Bruce Douglas running the show. And I think at Ayo is exactly that kind of player.
Which is why there's no debate. I've only ever given out five Cruises one time, and You Know Who never made it to Champaign. It's time to do it again. A true difference-maker, the perfect recruit in every sense, headed to Champaign.
Ayo Dosunmu - Five Tom Cruises