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Dosunmu's NBA playoff prep rooted in self-belief

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Sixty-five seconds into the second half of the regular-season finale in Minnesota, Billy Donovan called timeout and emphatically stated something to rookie Ayo Dosunmu as the rookie and his teammates walked towards the bench.

“We were coming down to run a play and it was on the wrong side of the floor. We had discussed where it needed to be, and it wasn’t there,” Donovan said. “Everybody on the floor was totally disorganized. And I was just trying to get across, ‘That’s your job.’”

Two seconds out of that timeout, Dosunmu traveled. Just 50 seconds after his first timeout, Donovan called another. Again, the coach could be seen talking loudly and directly to Dosunmu.

“I was just telling him, ‘You gotta get under control, settle down and we gotta generate some good shots,” Donovan said after the Chicago Bulls committed four turnovers in the first 1:55 of the second half.

Fast forward to the final minute. With the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead, Troy Brown Jr. drove and kicked to Dosunmu.

Never mind that Dosunmu had a season-high seven turnovers. Never mind that his coach had directly challenged him in those back-to-back timeouts.

Dosunmu stepped up and sank the dagger 3-pointer, part of his career-high 26 points. Dosunmu also posted six assists and five rebounds while logging a staggering 45 minutes.

“He’s great because he always responds,” Donovan said. “He made a lot of timely plays for us. I think it speaks to his maturity and competitiveness that he just gets lost in competing.

“Sometimes guys get frustrated, down, hang their head. He never does that.”

When the Bulls selected Dosunmu after he surprisingly dropped to the second round, plenty of speculation centered on the former Morgan Park High School and University of Illinois star spending much of his rookie season logging G League minutes with the Windy City Bulls.

Instead, Dosunmu’s indomitable spirit pushed him into the rotation early in the season. And injuries and his performance kept him there.

Dosunmu, a likely All-Rookie second-team selection, ended up starting 40 of his 77 games. He averaged 8.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 52 percent overall and 37.6 percent from 3-point range.

And with Lonzo Ball still sidelined, Dosunmu will log rotational minutes---maybe even start---in the Bulls’ first-round playoff matchup against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

“I’m very excited,” Dosunmu said following Thursday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “Going against the defending champions, it’s at the highest level.”

These are the types of challenges on which Dosunmu has thrived all season. Tell him he can’t do something and be prepared for him to either accomplish it---or keep coming at you while trying.

“Everyone in this facility believes we can win,” Dosunmu said when asked about the Bulls’ heavy underdog stats. “That’s all that really matters.”

Not surprisingly, Dosunmu said he’s thoroughly enjoying his first playoff preparation week. Why? Well, it might be for reasons you might not expect.

It’s not because he’s from here and he’s reveling in the atmosphere that the Bulls’ first postseason appearance in five years has created. It’s not because friends and family will be attending Games 3 and 4 at the United Center.

In fact, Dosunmu said he hasn’t even been on his phone this week because of the level of detail that this week has demanded---both on and off the court.

Dosunmu is excited because of the intense preparation and film study needed. He’s excited because the live scrimmaging for the first time regularly since training camp has afforded him an opportunity to gauge his growth against his teammates.

He’s even excited that he made a mistake during Thursday’s session and got yelled at by the coaching staff.

“The way I’ve been raised with my Dad to (high school coach) Nick Irvin to (Illinois coach) Brad Underwood, those coaches told me the reality and never sugarcoated anything. I told the coaching staff here to be direct with me. That’s when you get the full capacity of coaching,” Dosunmu said. “That’s all I can ask for, them coaching me hard. I understand the attention to detail.”

Dosunmu’s habit of asking questions jumped out to teammates from their first meetings. It has been a season-long theme. So you can imagine what this week has been like for DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso and Tristan Thompson as Dosunmu desires data needed for a long playoff run.

“He was asking me and DeMar questions every day after practice in the locker room. Not even about basketball but just about life and everything. Inquisitive,” Zach LaVine said,  when asked for his first impressions of Dosunmu. “Competitive. For somebody who spent a little more time in college, he came in a little more prepared. He knew his way around the court.”

That’s the thing: Dosunmu’s three years at Illinois have afforded him a perspective not all rookies in today’s world of one-and-done players owns. In fact, Dosunmu even rejected a question on whether or not his NCAA Tournament experience will prepare him for what’s coming.

“I think this is much more significant because it’s bigger and stronger and faster people with much more data and much more space and more gifted players,” he said.

That’s not to say Dosunmu isn’t confident. His self-belief is perhaps his best attribute. It’s why he’s here.

“I know I play hard. I have a lot of faith. I believe in my ability,” Dosunmu said. “I understand when (the intensity) rises, I’ll be able to rise also.”

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