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Staying home: Chicago Bulls select former Illini star Ayo Dosunmu 38th overall in 2021 NBA Draft

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Former Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu, center, is now a Chicago Bull.

Ayo Dosunmu is staying home.

The former Illinois star was selected 38th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night by the Chicago Bulls, officially beginning his professional career. Dosunmu, a Chicago native, held a draft party in his hometown to celebrate his latest milestone. Those in attendance erupted with joy when Dosunmu, who was projected as a late first-round pick by several sports media outlets, finally heard his name called in the second round by NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Dosunmu joins Derrick Rose as the only Chicago-born players to be drafted by the Bulls since the lottery era began in 1985. Rose was selected No. 1 overall in 2008 and went on to become the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history.

"It means everything, it's destined!" Dosunmu said with a wide smile. "You can never stop what's destined, you never can stop what the Lord has planned. I committed to Illinois, I played for my home state, and now I'm rewarded with playing for my home city."

Dosunmu, a 6-foot-5 guard, is the first Illini player to be chosen in the NBA Draft since 7-foot center Meyers Leonard was picked 11th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012. Dosunmu is also the first Illinois guard to be selected since Dee Brown and Deron Williams were chosen by the Utah Jazz with the No. 46 pick in 2006 and No. 3 pick in 2005, respectively.

"We interviewed him during the combine, and we found out how big of a fan he is of the Chicago Bulls, and to tell you the truth, we didn't think he was going to be there at 38," Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas said. "So it was kind of an exciting thing to see him up there still at 38. It was a long wait, but it was worth it."

Dosunmu is considered to be one of the greatest players in Illini history. He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2018-19, named First Team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press and the media in 2019-20 and capped of his college career with a trifecta of Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year, USA Today National Player of the Year and consensus First Team All-American honors in 2020-21.

"I know there’s not 37 people better than me. … I’m going to prove ‘em wrong. I got a list already," Dosunmu said. "But I’m blessed to be able to play for the Chicago Bulls, a team that I watched growing up.”

Last season, Dosunmu led Illinois back to national prominence. The Illini won their first Big Ten Tournament championship since the days of Brown and Williams in 2005, clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and set a single-season record with six victories against top-10 opponents.

Dosunmu averaged 20.1 points, 5.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds, becoming the first NCAA player to average at least 20 points, five assists and six rebounds over the last 11 seasons.

When asked what was appealing about Dosunmu as the Bulls weighed their decision with the 38th pick, Karnišovas said the standout guard does "a little bit of everything."

Last season, Dosunmu joined former Michigan State star and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson as the only Big Ten players to record multiple triple-doubles in conference play. Dosunmu had 21 points and career highs of 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a home win against Wisconsin on Feb. 6, and followed that up with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory at Minnesota on Feb. 20.

"He does a lot of scoring, he has five assists and six rebounds (per game), steals — he's versatile," Karnišovas said. "Long, 6-10 wingspan, 6-5 (height) so he has size. He's a combo guard. We rely on versatility, and that's what we're looking forward to seeing."

Illinois coach Brad Underwood attended Dosunmu's draft party and released a congratulatory statement shortly after the standout guard, who is perhaps the best player he's ever coached, realized his NBA dream.

"The work (Dosunmu) puts in to perfecting his craft and the way he handles himself on and off the court allowed him to have historic success at Illinois, and those same attributes will serve him well in the NBA," Underwood said. "I know this, the Bulls are getting a young man of the highest character with unparalleled work ethic, and above all else, a winner."

Summer League shot

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Dosunmu's former teammate at Illinois, went undrafted Thursday night. However, the 6-9 forward will play for the Denver Nuggets in the 2021 NBA Summer League, according to HoopsHypes' Michael Scotto.

The Nuggets' first Summer League game in Las Vegas is slated for Aug. 8 against the Miami Heat. Dosunmu and the Bulls will face the New Orleans Pelicans in their first Summer League game Aug. 9. Each contest will be televised on NBATV at 9 p.m. CT and ESPN2 at 2 p.m. CT, respectively.

Bezhanishvili averaged 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in three seasons with the Illini.

Follow James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid


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