CHICAGO (670 The Score) – About an hour before tip-off of the Bulls-Nuggets game Monday evening at the United Center, Chicago coach Billy Donovan informed rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu he’d be making his first career NBA start and that he’d “play a lot.”
“I just need you to be who you are,” Donovan then told him.
Dosunmu took the message to heart. After being introduced as “from Chicago” in the starting lineup presentation, Dosunmu made his hometown proud, recording 11 points, a career-high eight assists and six rebounds while sparking his shorthanded team again and again in a game-high 42 minutes to help lead the Bulls to a 109-97 win at the United Center. While Dosunmu was tasked with more responsibility, his production and comfort in handling it in no way surprised coaches and teammates who have been around him since the Bulls selected him in the second round of the NBA Draft last July.
“He’s like unfazed,” Donovan said. “That’s the thing I love about him.”
The 21-year-old Dosunmu was thrust into a starting role because star forward DeMar DeRozan (health and safety protocols) and guard Alex Caruso (hamstring) on Monday joined guard Coby White (health and safety protocols) and forward Javonte Green (health and safety protocols) as being sidelined from action. Beyond just not having many choices in general, Donovan explained that he started Dosunmu because he had earned it with his performance and because it would help give the team more ball-handling and playmaking.
As for the poise that Dosunmu plays with? Donovan has come to expect that by now.
“I really love coaching him because you can really, really talk to him in a way that he wants the truth,” Donovan said. “He wants to get better. He wants to grow. He wants to hear what he’s got to do to improve. And for me as a coach, when you see a young man with that much hunger and desire to want to be good, he wants to hear it all. I really, really respect that about him.”
From the start of when the Bulls (17-8) gathered for training camp, guard Lonzo Ball noted that Dosunmu has “got swag to him.” He added that Dosunmu is flourishing and improving more now because he has done a better job of letting the game come to him, a point Dosunmu backed up when he said he wanted to get the feel of the game’s flow for the first six minutes as he made his first start Monday.
“It brought back just memories from my first game starting in college,” Dosunmu said. “It was just like a feeling that’s hard to explain. It was a feeling of joy, of excitement. I just wanted to seize my opportunity.
“I felt good. Just my mindset (is) stay ready so you don’t have to get ready … There are 82 games. You never know when your opportunity is going to be called upon. The mindset I had coming into the season helped me prepare for nights like this when it is my time to play.”
The only time Dosunmu expressed any confusion Monday came in the postgame press conference, where a funny encounter occurred when he was asked about choosing to be introduced as “from Chicago.” Such an introduction was made famous by former Bulls star and NBA MVP Derrick Rose as others’ colleges are typically referenced. It led to an impromptu geography lesson from Dosunmu – “Chicago, Illinois, it’s all the same thing, really, I mean, Chicago is in Illinois” – before he shared his thought process.
“I like to be proud to say I’m from Chicago because I know the ups and downs of this city,” Dosunmu said. “I’ve been here my whole life. I’ve seen so many things, so many tragedies. For me to be in this position, I’m doing what I love at the highest level, anytime I get an opportunity to show love to where I came from, I always love to do that.”
From the sounds of Donovan’s postgame comments in which he gushed about Dosunmu’s mindset and tenacity, Dosunmu is going to keep getting plenty of opportunities to prove himself and remind fans where he came from.
“For me, so much – and I said this way back when – it’s his makeup,” Donovan said. “It’s who he is as a competitor. There may be guys that shoot it better than him. There may be guys that are faster than him. There may be guys more athletic than him. But he’s got a big heart and he competes and he impacts winning. He, I think in a lot of ways, makes a lot of timely plays that impact winning. So there was a lot on his plate tonight, and he really did a great job not only starting but playing the number of minutes that he played tonight.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.