The Illinois Fighting Illini got a big boost on Friday evening when rising junior Kofi Cockburn announced he will be returning to Champaign for the upcoming season. After initially entering the NBA Draft and later withdrawing his name but entering it into the transfer portal instead, the All-Big Ten First Team center is officially back in the navy and orange for the 2021-2022 season.
Cockburn was initially reported to be staying in the NBA Draft according to multiple reports in late May and early June, but he withdrew his name from it right at the deadline to do so. He simultaneously also met the deadline to enter the transfer portal and still be eligible to play next season without having to sit out.
Kentucky seemed to be a heavy favorite to land him thanks in large part to the Wildcats hiring away Illini assistant coaches Chin COleman and Orlando Antigua during the offseason. Florida State was also reportedly in the mix. However, it was later reported Cockburn was still open to returning to Illinois. Clearly head coach Brad Underwood was successful in keeping Cockburn in Champaign for at least another season.
Cockburn was a monster down low in league play. He earned first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors after averaging 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks as a sophomore. He shot 65.4% from the field and posted 16 double-doubles, including a 33-point, 13-rebound performance against Minnesota on Dec. 15 and a 26 point performance against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament.
While Illinois lost All-American Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo are back for a lethal backcourt duo. Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison should also do well for Illinois with valuable minutes, and two ESPN 100 recruits join the team along with transfers Omar Payne and Alfonso Plummer. All told, the Illini should likely find themselves back in the preseason top-25 with Cockburn back.