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Kofi Cockburn signs with Illinois

Top-50 center officially signs with the Illini.

Twitter: @kxng_alpha

Giorgi Bezhanishvili won’t be the only big man catching lobs from Ayo Dosunmu next winter.

Kofi Cockburn officially inked his National Letter of Intent with the Illini today, marking the first signee in the class of 2019 for Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood.

Cockburn comes in ranked as the No. 41 prospect in his class and the 10th-ranked center in the country. He checks in at 6-foot-11, 290 pounds and gives the Illini a body that can really clog the lane. The Jamaican native held offers from Kansas, Tennessee, Oregon, and Indiana among others.

The Oak Hill Academy product committed verbally to the Illini back on Jan. 6, just a week after his official visit.

I talked a little bit about his game last summer:

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.

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.

We saw flashes of Kane’s potential as a rim protector last season, and hopefully, we see him take a step over this offseason to cement himself in that role.

With the emergence of Bezhanishvili this year, Underwood now has multiple different looks and threats to throw at teams in his frontcourt. Go small with Giorgi and outrun teams. Rotate in Samba for length and rim protection. And then, let Kofi beat up on bigs down low.

There’s simply no reason this addition doesn’t lead to an NCAA Tournament.

Check out this feature for more on Kofi:

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