Ayo Dosunmu relishes Trae Young defensive assignment


Ayo Dosunmu always relishes a challenge.

It’s how, in both life and basketball, his ironlike demeanor has been sharpened.

And it’s why, upon being assigned to corral Hawks superstar Trae Young during the second quarter of the Monday night’s 130-118 Chicago Bulls victory in Atlanta, the rookie didn’t flinch.

“When I got the assignment, when I first checked him, pretty much all the other stuff go out the window,” Dosunmu said after the team’s Wednesday morning shootaround, which preceded another matchup with Young and the Hawks. “Now it was just about feeding my competitive nature.”

Dosunmu’s defense on Young was a key factor in the Bulls (sans Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso) turning the tide of Monday’s game. After racking up 12 points, five assists and shooting 5-for-8 from the field in the first quarter, Young shot 3-for-15 from the field in periods two through four as the Bulls flipped a nine-point first-half deficit into a 12-point margin of victory.

In 4 minutes, 46 seconds guarded by Dosunmu, according to NBA.com, Young shot 0-for-5 (0-for-2 from 3-point range), committed one turnover, and was the victim of an impressive, on-the-move block midway through the second quarter.

“My mindset really was to keep him in front, use my length, use my defensive instincts,” Dosunmu said. “I know he's a great player. I've been watching him a lot, me just being a student of the game. So I understood how crafty, how successful he is in pick-and-rolls, how he's able to get downhill and get his teammates involved. So I just wanted to use my length, try to bother him that way and just keep him in front and just contest all shots.”

Mission accomplished – and in rather workmanlike fashion at that. Checking a player of Young’s caliber would be a daunting task for many 21-year-old rookies, but Dosunmu’s poise endured throughout, even as he fell into a bit of foul trouble at the end of the first half.

He always relishes a challenge, after all.

“It was a very fun moment,” Dosunmu said. “No matter how much you watch people play, it's different to actually get out there and compete against them. The season he had last season, leading up to the Eastern Conference finals and being one game away from getting to the Finals, it was just a challenge I was willing to accept.

“And it also comes with the joy of basketball. That's something you live for, being able to guard the best player and be able to play in the biggest games, that environment in Atlanta. So I was just grateful.”

Dosunmu is also grateful to be back on the floor after a bout with COVID-19 he said never escalated beyond mild, cold-like symptoms. In his first game off the shelf, against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, he said his legs “felt heavy,” but he found a second wind. Three days later, he reported feeling closer to the condition he was in pre-quarantine.

But the NBA schedule is unforgiving. With Ball (protocols) and Caruso (foot sprain) still sidelined, another matchup with Young looms. And Dosunmu is wise enough to know the Hawks star will come into Chicago with a chip on his shoulder.

“It's gonna be an even bigger challenge because I understand that he's a competitor and he wants to win,” he said. “I'm pretty sure he's gonna come out tonight even more fired up.”

Dosunmu will be ready.

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