COLUMN: Ayo Dosunmu is the Chicago Bulls’ newest hometown hero

Saunders: Dosunmu’s early fan popularity reminiscent of the Derrick Rose era


Associated Press | Nick Wagner

Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu is led off the court by the Bulls’ medical team for concussion protocols during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday in San Antonio, Texas.

By DeOndre Saunders, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: DeOndre Saunders is a senior journalism major and serves as a sports reporter at the Northern Star. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Star. This is an opinion piece.

Playing for your hometown can automatically make you one of, if not the most, popular player on the team, but putting in the work on the court will certify you as a fan favorite. This has been the case for Chicago native and Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell goes up to shoot against Chicago Bulls’ guard Ayo Dosunmu during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Oct. 22 in Chicago. (Associated Press | Paul Beaty)

Dosunmu was selected last year in the 2021 NBA Draft by the Bulls with the 38th overall pick. He was drafted out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he progressed in his scoring ability over three years of playing for the Fighting Illini. Dosunmu jumped from 13.8 points per game his freshman year in the 2018-19 season to 20.1 his junior year in 2020-21.

Dosunmu also led Illinois to a Big Ten tournament title in the 2020-21 season and won the Bob Cousy Award, an honor given to the best point guard in collegiate men’s basketball each year.

Chicago fans have seemingly embraced Dosunmu since he joined the Bulls. The crowd erupts with excitement when he checks in the game, makes a shot or steals the ball.

At a Bulls home game in January against the Brooklyn Nets, the crowd erupted when Dosunmu checked into the game. In some of the other Bulls games, Dosunmu’s pre-game introduction noticeably gets more crowd noise than other Bulls stars like forward DeMar DeRozan and guard Zach LaVine.

Dosunmu averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds in home games last season. The crowds and pressure will probably intensify later in his Bulls career because he is poised to become a household name in the years to come.

A familiar feeling for Bulls fans

Dosunmu’s positive reception by Bulls fans brings flashbacks of how guard Derrick Rose was received during his seven seasons with Chicago.

Rose won over the crowd early in his career with his court skill and accolades. He had a fairytale story in Chicago that was unbelievable. Despite growing up in Englewood, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, Rose still managed to keep his head up and look past all the gang violence going on around him.

Rose was drafted by his hometown team and went on to do great things. He won NBA Rookie of the Year in 2009, was a three-time All-Star and became the youngest player in NBA history to be named the Most Valuable Player at 22 years and six months old.

Rose battled various injuries, such as suffering an ACL tear during the 2012 postseason. The crowd stuck by Rose’s side no matter what and continued to show support to him whether he was playing or not.

Not bad for a rookie

After his college success, Dosunmu transitioned to the professional level and became a backup for starting guard Lonzo Ball. Dosunmu prospered in his role off the bench during his rookie season. He averaged 10 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds in January. During that month, he had a career-high 24 points in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 24.

Dosunmu stepped up to the starting point guard position after Ball sustained a season-ending knee injury in February. Dosunmu averaged 10.8 points a game in February and had two double-double performances.

Dosunmu was able to thrive on the court thanks to the on-court presence of his two All-Star teammates, LaVine and DeRozan.

Not only is Dosunmu a great scorer and playmaker, but he’s also a great defender. He sets the tone of defense for the Bulls, defending top guards in the NBA like the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young and the Detroit Pistons’ Cade Cunningham.

In a game between the Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 24, Young played 37 minutes and shot 17.6% from the field with Dosunmu as the primary defender. Cunnigham had eight points and shot 27.3% against the Bulls on Jan. 11.

Dosunmu might not have the same fairytale story decorated with league honors that Rose had in Chicago, but early signs indicate that the sky’s the limit for Ayo Dosunmu.