Big expectations return to U of I basketball
Not only was he a star high school player, Ayo Dosunmo was a winner.
Playing for Morgan Park, he helped the Mustangs claim back-to-back state championships before heading to Illinois.
Dosunmo is ready to get back to that level.
"I was blessed to be able to win two state championships," he said. "Now with this team, we're expected to do a lot of things. The main key is staying focused. Stay together and keep your eye on the prize. If we stay together, we'll be good."
Long a Big Ten power, the Illini have fallen on hard times in recent seasons.
It has been six years since they've made it to the NCAA Tournament, and Illinois has had a losing record three of the last four years.
Optimism is running high in Champaign this season, which is typical at this time of the year. But as Illinois starts practicing this weekend, the confidence is real.
Dosunmo could have applied for the NBA draft after becoming the first true freshman in school history to lead the Illini in scoring last season at 13.8 points per game.
The 6-foot-5 guard decided to come back, and Dosunmo is joined by two other returning standouts -- guard Trent Frazier and forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili.
"Expectations should be as high as it gets," said Bezhanishvili, a high-energy big man who averaged 12.5 ppg as a freshman. "We have a great group, a hardworking group, a really hungry group. Any game we go into, we're going to try to win."
Kofi Cockburn is the newcomer to keep an eye on. A 6-foot-10 center from Oak Hill Academy, Cockburn gives the Illini a needed shot blocker and rebounder.
Illinois was 12-21 (7-13 in the Big Ten) last season, but wins over ranked Michigan State and Maryland and much better play heading into March should carry over into this season.
"There should be," coach Brad Underwood said of heightened expectations. "We're Illinois. Unfortunately, we've gone too long without having any expectations. With them comes some responsibility and some accountability.
"I think the one thing we have to continue to do is develop some toughness and grit. We've got to have a mentality when we go on the road. There's something that makes the Michigan States and the Purdues extremely good, and that's a confidence and toughness."