The True Meaning Behind Illinois Basketball Star Ayo Dosunmu's Nickname

Back in January 2020, the Chicago Sun Times' report on the Illinois Fighting Illini's 51-51 defeat of the Minnesota Golden Gophers was all framed around one thing: the opening three-pointer of Ayo Dosunmu, who, the report claimed, was playing the best basketball of his life. From the right wing, "The sophomore from Morgan Park pulled up off the dribble and buried it with about an inch separating his noggin from the outstretched hand of defender Gabe Kalscheur," the report read, before adding: "Dosunmu's idol, Kobe Bryant, would've approved."

The importance of Bryant, who, with his daughter Gigi, died in a helicopter crash that month, to the young basketball star was writ large in Dosunmu's post-match interview. "Every time I step on the court from now on, I'll think about him," said Dosunmu, per the same source. "I'll think about Kobe. I'll think about his daughter Gigi. I'll think about his mentality."

More than a year down the line, it appears that Dosunmu has stayed true to his word. His focus, and the rich vein of form that has come of it, has helped propel Dosunmu and his Illinois teammates to win the Big Ten tournament. As a homage to the architect of the Mamba mentality, Dosunmu even mimicked Bryant's famous "job not finished" poses with the tournament trophy, as shared by the Bleacher Report on Twitter.

But as Illinois find themselves locked in as No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Championship Tournament, that is not the only homage to Bryant that Dosunmu has had in mind.

Ayo Dosunmu's new nickname is a tribute to his hero Kobe Bryant

As Ayo Dosunmu emerges as the "prospect to watch" in the upcoming NCAA Championship Tournament and attracts interest from, among others, the Indiana Pacers, per Fansided, he is on the cusp of becoming a household name. But then again, Dosunmu may not be the name he ends up being best known by.

Though the Chicago Sun Times has claimed Dosunmu is "known throughout Illini Nation as simply Ayo," this may be about to change — and, again, it is Dosunmu's late hero Kobe Bryant who is at the forefront of his thinking. Currently wearing a pair of two protective face masks to prevent further injury while Dosunmu recovers from a broken nose, the star has lately been reveling in a new nickname: The Masked Mamba, according to CBS Sports, a nod to Bryant's "Black Mamba" sobriquet. The mask itself is also a dedication: "Dosunmu said he specifically picked the what he calls "black mamba" design and color of his mask to honor his idol," reports Essentially Sports.