So good, so soon for Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu? Illinois’ Brad Underwood scoffs at surprise

“People don’t really know these kids,” Underwood said. “You guys only know what you see.”

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Ayo Dosunmu throws one down against the Timberwolves at the United Center.

Ayo Dosunmu throws one down against the Timberwolves at the United Center.

David Banks/Getty Images

All right, fine, I’ll go first and admit it: I didn’t think Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu would be this good as a rookie.

Make the roster? Sure. Find a role? Yeah, probably. But shoot this well, pass this well, defend this well and become indispensable? Not to mention earn himself a spot in All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge? Come on, not many rookies manage all that.

I can’t be the only one who failed to see it coming.

“That’s because people don’t really know these kids,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “You guys only know what you see.”

At Illinois, Dosunmu was a dynamic player who made clutch shots, defended with attitude, outraced opponents from end to end and set a hard-working tone on a team that ascended to a Big Ten tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But there were plenty of others around college basketball with purer offensive talent.

Yet, here’s Dosunmu — a second-round draft pick, taken 38th — playing DeMar DeRozan minutes with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out, shooting above 50% from the field and 40% from the arc, setting up teammates as if he’s Chris Paul and essentially saying to coach Billy Donovan, “Take me out of the game — I dare you.”

Underwood is watching Bulls games on television when he can, following them on his phone when he can’t, texting with his former star on a regular basis and shaking his head — for months now — at the boobs and rubes who are surprised by Dosunmu’s instant NBA breakout.

“It’s hard to describe Ayo,” he said, “because I just say ‘winner’ and there’s nothing that gets in the way of that. But I also felt like he would be better suited to the NBA game because the paint opens up, his speed becomes more of a factor, his passing in space becomes easier. And I think he’s really, really effective because he’s got two, maybe three superstar-type guys around him, and that elevates his game. And he guards. And he’s tougher than hell.”

Underwood watched the Bulls beat the Thunder over the weekend and saw Dosunmu come within two rebounds and one assist of a triple-double. The best part, though, was when the camera caught Dosunmu being coached up by Caruso near the bench while a play was being reviewed.

“Caruso has him cornered, just jumps up and grabs him,” Underwood said. “He’s guiding Ayo through, coaching him through a sequence, and you can see Ayo is just a sponge. He’s such a great teammate, and he wants to continually learn. That’s invaluable.

“So, no, nothing Ayo is doing surprises me. The talent was there. The game was more suited to the open court, which he succeeds and excels in. All the other factors, Billy’s getting to live with now and see how those help their team.”

Better hop on up and squeeze in. The bandwagon is filling up fast.


A tip of the cap to the Horizon League for reversing course and announcing Tuesday that UIC’s student-athletes are eligible to participate in all league championships. It’s such a positive development, administrators at the league offices and those at UIC may even stop firing public shots at one another.


UIC diver Cydney Liebenberg | Steve Woltmann for UIC Athletics

No question, UIC invited trouble when it announced last month it will leave for the Missouri Valley Conference on July 1. According to Horizon bylaws — which UIC had helped write — less than a year’s notice meant ineligibility for championships, period.

The Horizon was well within its rights to stick to its guns, but it didn’t show any concern for the athletes themselves. What did they do to deserve that? Why punish them? The optics were terrible.

So now — hurry! — the swimming and diving teams will make it to Indianapolis for the Horizon championships, which begin Wednesday. The league’s premier diver, UIC’s Cydney Liebenberg, gets to try to add to her mountain of awards and honors. It’s all as it should be.

• My latest college basketball AP Top 25 ballot, submitted Monday morning: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Auburn, 3. Kentucky, 4. Arizona, 5. Purdue, 6. Duke, 7. Baylor, 8. Kansas, 9. Providence, 10. Texas Tech, 11. Illinois, 12. Villanova, 13. UCLA, 14. Tennessee, 15. Wisconsin, 16. Houston, 17. Michigan State, 18. Arkansas, 19. USC, 20. Texas, 21. Ohio State, 22. Notre Dame, 23. Connecticut, 24. Murray State, 25. Wyoming.

• Only 17 of 60 AP voters had Notre Dame on their ballots, leaving the Irish buried in “others receiving votes” territory. Makes (ahem) a lot of sense considering Mike Brey’s team is on a 14-2 tear, is tied for first place in the ACC at 11-3, has won four straight league road games, hasn’t lost to anybody not named Duke in over a month and — don’t forget — beat Kentucky back in December before the good times even started to roll.

Some people really need to put their slide rules back in their pocket protectors and give the metrics a break.

Multiyear extensions for Jon Sciambi and Jim Deshaies at Marquee? Nice.

As Billy Crystal’s “Fernando Lamas” character on “SNL” might’ve put it, it’s better to sound good (in the booth) than be good (on the field).

No extra charge for the embarrassingly outdated cultural reference.

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