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Watch now: Ayo Dosunmu 'chasing greatness' in return to Illinois men's basketball team

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Illinois Michigan Basketball

Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu is trying to lead the Illini to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan, meanwhile, hasn't missed a beat since returning from 23 days off.

CHAMPAIGN — Perhaps in a world not fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic Ayo Dosunmu would have made a different announcement on Friday night.

He had two videos prepared, each with different endings. In one ending, he announced the realization of his dreams by saying he would remain in the NBA Draft and pursue a professional career. In the other ending, the one that we have come to know, Dosunmu announces his return to the Illinois men's basketball team for his junior season and closes it by saying, "but first I need that national championship."

“I kept both because I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go," Dosunmu said on a Zoom call with media on Sunday. "Obviously I decided to come back. The NBA is going to be there. I’m not chasing the NBA, I’m chasing greatness. I felt this was the best decision for me to chase that greatness and chase perfection."

There was uncertainty around the NBA Draft, specifically the draft combine — of which Dosunmu was invited. There's not yet been a date announced or a layout for what the combine will look like. Would it be a combine that simply measured height and weight or would Dosunmu have gotten to showcase his talents in scrimmages or show his athleticism and strength with bench presses, vertical jumps and shuttle runs? It's hard to tell.

Dosunmu didn't wait around to find out. He'll return to an Illinois team that returns four of its starters after Kofi Cockburn announced he'd also be returning to Champaign and brings in a highly-ranked freshman class and has a pair of transfers available after sitting out the NCAA-mandated year. The Illini are a trendy pick to be in the preseason Top 10 and make a run to the Final Four, provided there's a season.

“Of course I knew that if I had the opportunity for a combine or an opportunity to work out for teams, there’s no doubt in my mind that I don’t believe that I wouldn’t be drafted in the first round or definitely have a guaranteed contract, but that wasn’t the cards that were dealt to me," Dosunmu said.

"So I had to find another way and there’s no better way than coming back and getting bigger and getting stronger, showing my athleticism and showing everything that I would have showed NBA teams my rookie year, just showing it my junior year. The only difference is I get the opportunity to win a national championship along with it."

All offseason Dosunmu said he was "99.9% locked into the NBA Draft but left the option open to return to school, especially with a global pandemic presenting lingering questions for sports leagues around the country. As it turns out, that 0.1% won out.

He's been in Chicago working with his father and brother for five months and has to speak with the coaching staff about when he'll return to Champaign. First, he'll need to find an apartment in town.

He said he first made contact with Illinois men's basketball head coach Brad Underwood about a week and a half ago, and added that Underwood and the coaching staff gave him the proper amount of space in making the decision about his future. He made it clear to Underwood in recent conversations that because of the mutual respect and admiration between the two, he wouldn't blindside the coach with a social media announcement regardless of which decision he made.

On Friday night, he called Underwood to let him know he was coming back to school and about thirty seconds later, at 8:16 p.m., Dosunmu posted the video that quickly dominated social media.

“The day that I dropped (the video) was the day that I firmly confirmed my decision," Dosunmu said. "I was talking to my grandfather actually and that was the first time it actually came out of my mouth. I told him, ‘Yeah, I’m going to come back for my junior year.’"

Cockburn announced he'd return to school 17 hours later, but Dosunmu said it wasn't a coordinated effort. The two are close friends and had been in touch this offseason with Dosunmu providing advice where appropriate and necessary, but said he gave Cockburn the space to make his own decision in the same way that he appreciates his own space in making decisions.

So here comes Dosunmu, back to Champaign with plans for a national championship, to continue delivering on the promise he made when he committed of turning the program around. The NBA will be there. If Dosunmu wanted to go, he had opportunities in each of the last two offseasons to do so. He wants a long career, to contribute as a rookie. Not everyone has the same path to the NBA. A junior season is part of Dosunmu's.

“A lot of people are one and dones, but everyone’s book is different, everyone’s stories are different," he said. "Everyone runs their mile, runs their marathon at a different pace. You have some guys who are one and done and you have some greats who spent extra time in college: Steph Curry, CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, so many greats that I could go on the list that spent time  — Michael Jordan — there are so many guys who spent extra time in college to develop and ultimately win.

"I want to win. I want to be in the same conversation as those greats. I want to put Illinois in a position to win a national championship and contend with a national championship. When I committed here, I said I wanted to help turn the program around. I think definitely we’re right there, now it’s time to execute. That’s my goal and that’s my plan."

PHOTOS: Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu

Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25


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