Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu earning Billy Donovan’s trust early in season


Dosunmu earning Billy Donovan’s trust with competitive play originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Ayo Dosunmu is putting on a crash course on how to earn a coach’s trust.

Yes, it’s only been three months since the Chicago Bulls selected the hometown darling and University of Illinois star 38th overall in the 2021 draft. And only one game of Dosunmu’s first NBA season has elapsed.

But in the Bulls’ Wednesday evening win in Detroit, all of the training camp and preseason goodwill cultivated by the rookie culminated in him cracking Billy Donovan’s opening night rotation — not a sure thing, given the team’s crowded guard room. Dosunmu played 11 minutes in the contest, scoring 7 points on 3-for-8 shooting. Those three buckets coming by way of two transition layups and a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer as the Bulls staged a second-half rally.

“I wouldn’t say it was a surprise because me being a competitor, I know that in a long season there’s gonna be ups and downs,” Dosunmu said after Thursday’s practice when asked if him being called upon came as a surprise. “But the way my mentality is, I’m going to take every day and try to get better and try to be the best player I can be so I can gain the trust from Coach (Donovan) that whenever he decides to play me I’ll be ready.

“I really don’t ever look into how many minutes or where I’m at in the rotation or anything like that. I just try to go out here and win every day and compete and get better.”

Even since he was drafted, Dosunmu says he’s developed a great deal. He lit up when asked how he has improved since Summer League, citing painstakingly in-detail sitdowns with the Bulls coaches to refine his lane-line rebounding, pick-and-roll decision-making and screen navigation.

“I got better in so many different ways. It’s just so many ways I can explain,” Dosunmu said. “I think in every aspect of my game I have gotten better.”

In addition to shining in limited preseason minutes, Donovan said Dosunmu’s competitiveness, basketball IQ and role acceptance have all stood out in practices. Those qualities have helped Dosunmu assimilate from a predominately on-ball role at Illinois to fitting into a larger framework in the pros.

“I think the trust with coaches always gets earned by guys understanding who they are up here at this level. And when you have a level of consistency that you know what you’re getting from them,” Donovan said. “He’s gonna make mistakes, that’s part of the game. He’s not gonna be perfect. But you know what he’s trying to play inside the framework of what we’re doing, and he’s also trying to play to his strengths. And as long as he does that I feel good about the progress he’ll continue to make.

“He’s got my trust, I totally trust him. Because I know what I’m getting competitively out of him. He is a great competitor and he is a tough, hard-nosed guy. He takes it on the defensive end of the floor. I totally trust him.”

Donovan isn’t the only one singing Dosunmu’s praises. Zach LaVine called the rookie “fearless” after he closed out the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Bulls’ third preseason game. Alex Caruso noted during camp he asks more questions than the typical first-year. DeMar DeRozan called him “one of his favorite rookies” on Wednesday.

Add it all together, and you have a tough-minded young player who plays hard, acts on curiosity and thus far has exhibited incremental improvement. Statistics aside, that’s an awfully good start.

“I take a confidence boost from every practice. Every practice I play I try to go as hard as I can because I try to get better each and every day. No matter if it’s a little, bitty inch, that inch goes a long way,” Dosunmu said. “Yesterday (the season opener), it was a great starting point. Definitely it was a confidence-booster, because I want to learn from it. I want to lay my foundation then get better from there.”

What the future holds for Dosunmu’s role remains to be seen. Donovan liked his minutes on Wednesday, but that rotation audible came with the backdrop of Troy Brown Jr. battling a nagging illness and early foul trouble.

In the meantime, another milestone awaits in the form of the home opener against the Pelicans on Friday, when Dosunmu will suit up in front of family, friends and fellow Chicago faithful for the first time in the regular season. He said he expects a lot of guests, and a packed house, considering the positivity surrounding the team.

“I try not to get too high and I try not to get too low. Like yesterday we played good, and I think I played good, but there’s always room for improvement,” Dosunmu said. “I try to stay even-keeled. When you do that and you keep stacking days, that’s how you get better and then that’s how you knock out all the outside noise.”

If nothing else, expect that mentality to sustain.

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