Size — it’s been a point of emphasis for Brad Underwood since taking over this Illinois program. When Jeremiah Tilmon jumped ship for Mizzou, Illini fans knew they could be in for a long winter with the team’s lack of frontcourt depth. Michael Finke was forced to play out of position last season for the team, matching up with guys like Isaac Haas and Mo Wagner. Being vertically challenged played a large part in the team going 4-14 in conference play. Then, losing guys like Leron Black, Greg Eboigbodin, and Finke this offseason really put the staff in a pickle.
The Illini will have a little more size on paper this season, but next to no experience from their bigs. Adonis De La Rosa transferred to the team just last week, giving Brad Underwood a 7-foot, 250+ pound bruiser. The only catch is that we likely won’t see De La Rosa take the floor with the team until they’re already a couple games into the conference schedule. The former Kent State standout suffered an ACL tear in the team’s last game, putting him out of basketball related activities until at least November or December. I’m sure as we get closer to the season we’ll start to have a better judgment of his timeline, but for now we can safely assume it’ll be awhile. De La Rosa will be gone after next season, leaving the Illini with just Samba Kane standing taller than 6-foot-9.
Enter Kofi Cockburn.
Underwood offered the 6-foot-11, 250-pound center out of New York last spring, and it sounds like he’ll be on campus next month.
Cockburn is listed as the 32nd-best player in the class of 2019 and one of the top players from the state of New York. He holds offers from UCLA, Oregon, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kansas and Indiana, among many others.
When you break down the tape, it’s clear that Cockburn isn’t a typical Underwood-style big. But when one of the best players in the country has interest in your school, you find a way to incorporate his game into your system.
Underwood’s style of play is all about pushing the pace, getting down the floor quick, scoring in transition, and playing aggressive defense. This all works when you have long perimeter defenders who can pressure the ball and get in passing lanes, but it’s essential that you have a rim protector — like Underwood hopes Kane can be — to clean up whatever gets by.
Cockburn isn’t the quickest getting down the floor, but with a guy like Samba on the roster already, Underwood would be able to matchup however he wants with opposing teams. A lineup with Kane allows the Illini to get up and down the floor quickly, beating other bigs down the court, and finding easy transition buckets. With Cockburn on the floor, the lineup gives BU a bully in the paint.
But what I like most about Kofi’s game is that he’s not one-dimensional. You can stretch him out to a high-post position because he’s capable of facing up and knocking down midrange jumpers. He’s not a big who’s limited to the low-post area, although he finishes well and it looks like he has a nice touch to the baby hook.
Getting a guy like Cockburn gives this team another weapon, but most importantly, it gives the staff diversity in lineups and game plans. Of course neither Kane or De La Rosa have even suited up for the Illini yet, but adding Cockburn could give Illinois options down low that fans haven’t seen in quite some time.