(670 The Score) Two of the front-runners to win the National Player of the Year award in college basketball are Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and Iowa big man Luka Garza.
One of those who has weighed in on the superb play of both is Illini coach Brad Underwood, who a day before Illinois’ 80-75 win against Iowa on Jan. 29 actually provided his own player with extra motivation while praising the opponent.
“They got the best player in college basketball, in my opinion, in Luka Garza,” Underwood said before that big matchup. “He’s very efficient. It’s scary to think of his offensive efficiency numbers.”
Whether it was simply a case of Underwood mindlessly praising a talented foe or calculatedly making the comment as a means to push his own player, only he can answer. What’s clear is that Dosunmu took notice, as he was ready to answer the question on the Parkins & Spiegel Show on 670 The Score on Friday afternoon when the topic was broached with him.
“This is why I like the Score,” Dosunmu said. “This is the first time I’ve actually got that observation. But definitely. I definitely did take it as motivation, honestly. I’m a competitor. I compete. I want to be the best. That’s what I strive for. That’s why I work so hard on my game. So of course when I saw it, it definitely did put extra motivation in me to be the best I can be, to do whatever I can to help my team win. And that’s all I strive to do. But it definitely did add motivation, because that’s just the way I was raised by my dad, my parents, my mom. They just always raised me to be the best. So when I saw that, it was just, ‘OK, it’s time to turn it up a notch. We have a challenge, and I accept the challenge.’ That’s what I’m trying to do for the rest of the season – play as hard as I can and do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Dosunmu played like he had some extra motivation, as he scored 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting in the Illini’s key victory against the Hawkeyes. Garza had 19 points on 9-of-18 shooting in that game.
Dosunmu is averaging 21.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 49.1% this season, while Garza is averaging 24.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 56.3%. Illinois is having the better season, sitting in second place in the Big Ten with an 11-3 conference record, which is a half-game behind league-leading Michigan. Dosunmu has been historically great in crunch time to help lead the Illini to the heights it has ascended, as they sit No. 5 in the AP poll. Iowa is in fourth place in the Big Ten at 10-5.
Looking back, Dosunmu has gotten a kick out of that comment from Underwood, who more recently has also stumped for Dosunmu to be the National Player of the Year.
“He’ll try to provoke me in practice some things,” Dosunmu said of Underwood. “He does that a lot. It’s all love. That’s what I like, love about coach Underwood. He’s always looking for ways to motivate me.
“After that game, I actually didn’t say anything to him because I try to let my game do the talking.”