Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu played hero Wednesday, but he’s still going through growing pains

Dosunmu’s buzzer-beating putback Wednesday in Atlanta came a night after he played only five minutes in Miami.

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Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu reacts after making a buzzer beater to defeat the Atlanta Hawks.

Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu reacts after making a buzzer beater to defeat the Atlanta Hawks.

Hakim Wright Sr./AP

NEW YORK — Several times last season, guard Ayo Dosunmu was asked about his relationship with Bulls coach Billy Donovan and replied, ‘‘I want to be coached hard.’’

Well, wish granted.

How’s this for some old-fashioned hard coaching?

Because of the knee injury to Lonzo Ball, Dosunmu was a starter at the beginning of this season, then lost his job and was demoted to the bench. His playing time as a reserve had started to dry up in the last 10 days.

That included a season-low five minutes Tuesday against the Heat in Miami. That’s when concerns about why he fell to the second round of the draft in 2021 started to resurface.

So while the last-second victory Wednesday against the Hawks in Atlanta was huge for the Bulls, it was even bigger for Dosunmu.

Was he in the right place at the right time for the game-winning putback at the horn? Sure. But Dosunmu also took it on himself to sprint through the lane on DeMar DeRozan’s errant shot, positioning himself to make something happen.

Not bad for a 22-year-old who might have been dealing with some recent doubts.

‘‘It’s all about your approach, your mental approach,’’ Dosunmu said. ‘‘You’ve got to be mentally strong in this league, definitely. I pride myself on being a great teammate, being there for my teammates. [In Miami], I didn’t play the minutes I ideally want to play, just me being a competitor. But I can’t take that out on my teammates.

‘‘I knew that whenever my time did come, I would be ready for it. I always say brick-by-brick, and sometimes you can’t always keep stacking ‘em. Sometimes you’ve gotta take bricks away. That’s part of the journey.’’

And sometimes those bricks are taken away for you.

While veterans such as Zach LaVine and DeRozan denied any strife with Donovan, as was reported, it’s no secret Donovan is harder on young players than he is on veterans.

That’s not uncommon in the NBA, and Donovan even pulled the curtain back on how he discusses playing time with his role players.

‘‘I’ll communicate with them if they’re not going to play,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Obviously, how the game is going and how they’re playing will dictate how many minutes they ultimately will get.

‘‘I think as it relates to those guys in particular, you’re always communicating with them. But if there was some reason they weren’t going to play, I would certainly have a conversation with them and say: ‘Listen, this is what we’re doing tonight, this is where we’re at, this is what’s going on and this is how we see the future.’ ’’

Donovan still sees a bright future for Dosunmu, but he also wants the former Morgan Park standout to know gaining experience is sometimes a process that involves growing pains.

‘‘He has always been able to hang on to his competitiveness, and competitiveness has always gotten him through,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘But I think the further you go up the ladder — from high school to college and now to the NBA — that is a huge component that you have to have, but there’s also the detailed part, too, [especially] in terms of understanding who he is really guarding, trends, what the opponent likes to do, how he’s being guarded, what they’re doing to him. Are they going under in pick-and-roll?

‘‘I don’t think there’s any question that it’s different for him from last year to this year in terms of [becoming] a pretty regular player that teams now are game-planning for.’’

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