By IlliniGuys.com staff
July 16, 2021
Consensus 2nd team All-American Kofi Cockburn made it official Friday night; he is returning to play his junior season for the University of Illinois. The announcement made via social media brought a collective sigh of relief from Illini Nation and effectively ends the most bizarre offseason recruitment in Fighting Illini basketball history.
Cockburn chose to explore his options two weeks ago by surprisingly entering the transfer portal after removing his name from the NBA Draft. He openly expressed an interest in joining the storied Kentucky program and former Illini assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman. However, the possibility never gained steam; the Wildcats appeared to be little more than a passing interest to Cockburn and Wildcats head coach John Calipari reportedly never even talked to the 7-footer, despite internet buzz among Big Blue Nation that had a Cockburn-to-Kentucky deal completed just days earlier.
Cockburn posted a video on social media late Friday afternoon addressing Illini fans:
“Dear Illini Nation, I want to thank you and let you know these last two years have meant the world to me. We’ve accomplished some great things together. The most regular season wins in Illinois history, a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship and the first time in the Big Dance since 2013. Champaign became my home and Illinois basketball became my family. I will never forget what these last two years have meant to me but it’s time to move forward. It’s time to put the past in the past and take the next step. It’s time to bring a national championship back to Champaign.”
While the extra two-weeks drew the considerable ire and angst of many Illini fans, the extra time only raised Cockburn's national profile. ESPN's basketball guru Dick Vitale - normally not known for his interest in or even awareness of current events outside Tobacco Road - tweeted about Cockburn's apparent return on Thursday. ESPN.com did a story on the Jamaican native upon his decision to not further pursue an NBA career at this point. CBS Sports picked Cockburn as the #1 transfer option in the portal.
Illini head coach Brad Underwood offered this statement:
We are beyond thrilled to have Kofi remain a Fighting Illini and add the nation’s top player to our lineup. Kofi has been thorough during every step of his process, from exploring professional opportunities to making the decision to return to college. He has played a major role in our success the past two years and has more individual and team goals to achieve this season. Kofi will now have the chance to expand new aspects of his game while continuing to be a dominant force on both ends of the floor.”
The first team All-Big Ten performer opens his third season at State Farm Center as college basketball's most dominant player. Cockburn made tremendous strides last season, going from the Big Ten Freshman of the Year to All-American status on nearly every list last spring and now he looks to continue that growth pattern. Illinois rose to a #2 ranking in March and figures to be no worse than a preseason top 10 pick this fall as they join Michigan and Purdue as the early favorites to win the Big Ten. While leading the Illini to another Big Ten championship, Cockburn will look to impress NBA scouts with improved defense on the perimeter and an expanded offensive game that will include scoring from mid-range and even out to the three-point arc.
IlliniGuys insider Brad Sturdy reported last weekend that one of Cockburn's goals to have his banner hung in the rafters at State Farm Center. If he and the Illini fulfill expectations this winter, his legacy will be secure.
After two long, anxious months, Illini fans can finally exhale. The big man is here to stay...until next spring and the chance to do it all over again.
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