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Over Kentucky And Fsu Kofi Cockburn Returns To Illinois

After all, the biggest name in men’s basketball to enter the transfer portal in, well, the transfer portal’s history isn’t transferring.
Kofi Cockburn, a unanimous All-America selection in 2020-21, revealed on Friday that he will return to Illinois for his third season.
The announcement comes after little over two weeks of heavy speculation regarding the future of the Jamaican center, with Cockburn opting for Illinois over Kentucky and Florida State.
Cockburn is a mixed bag of dominance and flaws.
His muscle-packed 7-foot, 285-pound physique makes him nearly impossible to stop on the block, and his presence in the paint defensively helped the Illini become one of the nation’s greatest defensive teams last season.
Cockburn controls both ends of the court, wants to dunk everything, and took over a few games last season thanks to his superior physical tools and developing understanding of how to use them.
But then there are the weaknesses, shortcomings that have caused NBA evaluators to question his fit in the current game. Katie Stratman/USA TODAY Sports
As the top-seeded Illini were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round by Loyola Chicago, Cockburn’s troubles defending in space were highlighted.
Cockburn had 21 points and nine rebounds in the game, but his problems on the perimeter against Loyola’s Cameron Krutwig were a big reason Illinois’ finest season in 15 years ended in the first weekend of the tournament.
Last season, he handed the ball over more over ten times for every assist, and his free throw shooting difficulties (55% in 2020-21) are also a impediment.
These weaknesses restrict Cockburn’s NBA potential, and overcoming them is the main reason he’ll wear a college uniform next season instead of a professional one.
However, Brad Underwood is almost definitely ecstatic that he will be able to lead Cockburn through that process, and his club will benefit as a result.
Despite his flaws, Cockburn will be one of the top five players in college basketball next season.
With the Illini’s string of losses this offseason, a somewhat unexpected midsummer return from Cockburn is the best potential Christmas in July gift Underwood could have hoped for.
Ayo Dosunmu, who was Cockburn’s Robin last season and will make the jump to the NBA after three seasons and a huge improvement in his pro stock as a junior, is no longer with the team.
There are parallels to be seen between Dosunmu and Cockburn’s career arcs, since Dosunmu returned for one more year around this time last year to show off an improved shooting stroke and playmaking abilities to scouts.
He did just that, jumping from being a likely undrafted free agent in 2020 to a possible first-round pick in 21.
The departure of Dosunmus, who was widely expected, was far from the only one for Illinois.
All three assistant coaches from a staff that was widely considered as one of the greatest in the sport moved on to new positions.
Orlando Antigua (who brought Cockburn to Champaign) and Chin Coleman joined John Caliparis’ Kentucky staff, while Stephen Gentry, a well-respected strategist, returned to his alma mater to work for Mark Few at Gonzaga.
When you factor in the transfer of former top recruit Adam Miller (LSU), the offseason was considerably more chaotic than it should have been for a club coming off a Big Ten tournament title and a No. 1 ranking.
In the NCAA tournament, a No. 1 seed would have been expected.
Bringing Cockburn back into the fold, however, ensures Illinois’ place in the Big Ten’s upper echelon, at least through 2021-22.
Since Deron Williams led the way in 2005, the program hasn’t made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Cockburn’s return offers Illinois a legitimate chance to break the run.
Opposing Big Ten coaches will be up at night thinking about guarding Cockburn and smart Puerto Rican point guard Andre Curbelo in pick-and-rolls, and that combo will be surrounded by veterans like Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer, and DaMonte Williams who can shoot the three and bring it on the defensive end.
Curbelo may not be as talented as Dosunmu, but in the three games Illinois played without Dosunmu last season, he averaged 14 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game, including a rout of Michigan.
Curbelo takes up the role of Robin to Cockburn’s Batman, just like Cockburn once did for Dosunmu.
Come November, there will be a lot of new faces on the Illinois bench.
Yet, there is no mistake No.
It’s not just a win for Illinois or the Big Ten–it’s a win for college basketball. 21 in orange, and his at-one-point improbable return isn’t just a win for Illinois or the Big Ten–it’s a win for college basketball.
* Where Other Top Transfers May Be Headed * NCAA Winners & Losers of NBA Draft Choices * SI’s Top 10 Recruits Will Have Big Effect in College Basketball

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