Rivers Run Deep

Apr 7, 2021

It's not long after sunrise on New Years Day and I'm on a boat out on the ocean. My wife is asleep on my shoulder, I'm looking out over the ocean, and I'm listening to a song my son sent me on New Years Eve. I put the song on loop and listen to it... 20 times? 30?

I think I took a photo that morning. Let me see if I can find it.

I did. And I made a loop of it. So to set the scene, here's where I was sitting, wife asleep on my shoulder, song on loop:

The song, which you'll hear in a bit, is a remake of a song by the New Zealand band Six60. The song: Rivers. The singer: Teddy Swims.

Some lyrics:

Go in, go in
That's my decision
We're floatin', floatin'
Off to oblivion
We go... flow along with me

Focus, focus
And we'll have no problems
Hoping, hoping
I hoping you're so
You'll have a place for me

And now you know
That your rivers run deep

Obviously, with lyrics like "floating off to oblivion", I was really feeling the song that morning as I looked out over the ocean. And obviously, given the last year, the concept of the song hit me pretty hard.

Quit my job, move to a new city, sit in my house quarantined for months and months, and now, for a brief moment, even though I was still masked and the boat could only be half capacity, I'm out on the ocean on New Years Day breathing fresh air. I've always been a "suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope" guy, so something about New Years Day and a song saying "and now you know that your rivers run deep" was just about perfect.

I was also thinking about the basketball season. I had a flight the next day to fly to St. Louis and then a 2.5 hour drive to try to make tip-off of the Purdue game. It had already been such a unique journey so far, with empty arenas and a team bouncing in and out of the top-10. My wife probably slept for an hour there on my shoulder, so I had a lot of time to sit there and think. That entire time, I had the song on loop.

And as I listened, I thought about the last decade of basketball. So many years falling short of the Tournament, and now we're ranked (#15 at the time, on our way to #2). And we're part of the national conversation. How did we get there? One player kept his promise.

So then I'm listening to the song again and I'm thinking about Ayo Dosunmu. And I realize that the song really isn't about the ocean or the pandemic or anything I'm trying to attach to it. I realize that of anyone I know, "your rivers run deep" describes Ayo Dosunmu.

Think about the pressure he put on himself. At his press conference where he verballed to Illinois he said that he would "bring Illini basketball back" and that he wanted to be the "cornerstone" of the rebuild. A 17 year-old kid committing to a college program and he's not only aware of the fall of the program he's committing to, he's saying he will be the "cornerstone" of the rebuild.

And then he becomes the cornerstone. There isn't a font with a deep enough italic slant to adequately emphasize that sentence. He gets in front of a mic at the Nike Store in Chicago and says he'll be the cornerstone of the rebuild of Illini basketball and then he delivers on that promise. By the end of his junior year, we're NUMBER TWO in the polls and a 1-seed in the Tournament. That's his deliverable.

How? How does a young man not only understand the gravity of the situation but then deliver on the boldest of promises?

I mean seriously, who does this? Who even understands the longings of the fanbase when they commit to a school? Sure, maybe the coaching staff sold him on such things ("we're here to rebuild this once proud program and you're the cornerstone"), but how many 17 year-olds then get in front of the mic and promise the fanbase they'll get the rebuild they've been dreaming about?

Cornerstone. He actually said cornerstone. And then he delivered. To the tune of the first 1st-team AP All American in program history. As the #32 recruit in the country.

On about the 15th loop through the song I was convinced it was written about Ayo. There's no other way to explain what he's done these last three seasons than to say that his rivers run deep. He's simply one of those incredible human beings who has the capacity - the depth - to take on impossible challenges. Not only take them on, but overcome them. Not only overcome them, but take a 12-21 basketball team and push it to #2 in the polls.

Yes, we did not achieve the ultimate goal. Yes, the season ended abruptly. But that's not what I was thinking about out on the ocean that day and it's not what I'm thinking about right now. He made a promise - I will bring Illinois basketball back - and he delivered.

Which is why I made the video at the bottom. It's my thank-you to Ayo. I'm not good at this and there's no high production value here and it's probably even a bit embarrassing. But I could not let this moment pass - Ayo is off to chase his dream of the NBA - without putting a video together with Rivers Run Deep as the soundtrack.

This is why I believe he's special. This is what gives him the capacity to do what he's done. He's one of those people whose rivers run deep, and he used that depth to bring Illinois basketball back from oblivion.

So thanks, Ayo. Thanks for delivering on your promise. I took this photo of you when you were visiting a game back in high school, wondering what you were thinking as you looked up at that hoop:

And now I know...

That your rivers run deep.


Flillini2911 on April 7, 2021 @ 09:57 AM

Great video - summarizes Ayo's story in a great way and the article depicts his unbelievable maturity. We don't see that often anymore. Ill take character over gifts any day; he just happens to have both. I remember watching Trent his senior year play in Wellington, thinking he was special as well. His commitment the past 4 years has been remarkable. I am going to miss watching this team. They had something "special".

kyle.bendsen@gmail.com on April 7, 2021 @ 01:08 PM

There ya go Robert, making me cry. What a video and one I'll return to often. Thank you and thank Ayo.

Brave Illini on April 7, 2021 @ 01:53 PM

Excellent tribute, and deserving.

JohnnyKarate on April 7, 2021 @ 02:01 PM

Got a little dusty in my office while I watched that video...

TheBrian on April 7, 2021 @ 03:18 PM

There's no crying in bas(k)e(t)ball! (Not true)

ktcesw on April 7, 2021 @ 03:43 PM

Superb!!! Thanks!!!

Gary48 on April 7, 2021 @ 06:08 PM

Robert, This article is why I follow you and am so pleased that this is now your full-time job. You truly understand the passion of our fan base, including me. It was a fantastic journey with this years basketball team and my wife and I hung on every shot. Mistakes were made in the Loyola game, but it doesn’t detract from the superior job the coaching staff and players gave us this year. Thanks for your expertise and passion.

HNLINI on April 7, 2021 @ 07:31 PM

Instant. Illini. Legend.

Not since Dee have we had a player that special. And with all due respect to Dee, the pressures and fan/media scrutiny these kids face today with social media and the 24/7 news cycle is far greater.

Shared credit and accepted all of the blame. Kid is a winner, plain and simple.

judge.spears@gmail.com on April 7, 2021 @ 09:19 PM

Just beautiful, Robert. You always have a way of putting my thoughts and feelings into words. Can't thank you enough.

MinnIllini on April 8, 2021 @ 04:08 AM

Nice video. Well done. Impactful. Thanks.

40n4atIMPE on April 8, 2021 @ 07:47 PM

Like some of my favorite classic rock anthems this post started slowly and quietly. It continued to build and the adrenalin started pumping. By the time the video was over I was on my feet shouting for more. Well done. Thanks Robert.

allansellers89 on April 9, 2021 @ 10:56 PM

Amazing! Thank you! For me the highlights also show how spoiled we were to have a player that could hit clutch shot after clutch shot. Amazing!

Illinir1 on April 10, 2021 @ 01:24 AM

Oh Robert. You've done it again.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on April 11, 2021 @ 02:37 AM

Imma need to collect myself before I watch that again....

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