With Bernard Kouma officially inking his National Letter of Intent, the Illini have their second signee in the class of 2019.
Although unranked by any national recruiting sites, Kouma garnered interest from several Division I programs, including Dayton, Hofstra and Valparaiso.
A native of the African country Chad, he attended Our Saviour Lutheran School in Bronx, New York, and committed to Illinois back on Apr. 8.
The 6-foot-10, 225-pound big man adds valuable depth to the frontcourt, joining Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Samba Kane, and fellow signee Kofi Cockburn. Kouma averaged over 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks as a senior on his high school team.
Arguably his most impressive performance came against Roselle Catholic and Kentucky commit Kahlil Whitney. Kouma posted 29 points and 17 boards to go along with a handful of blocks against one of the country’s top prospects in a 75-74 loss during the Kyrie Irving Invitational.
The big man was forced to play out of position most of the game as Roselle Catholic didn’t have a true forward. Instead, Kouma matched up with Whitney both offensively and defensively. He’s not dominant in the sense that he’s going to go out and completely take over contests, but he’s efficient and quietly fills up his box score. Kouma was a perfect 7-of-7 from the line against Roselle Catholic to go along with an 11-of-16 shooting night.
“[Kouma] can play above the rim, but he’s good with either hand finishing around the basket,” Our Saviour Lutheran coach Peter Wehye told The News-Gazette earlier this month. “Good off the pick-and-roll. He makes his money rebounding that basketball. He’s got great hands. He’s 6-foot-10 and built like a truck. He’s a brute.”
While I wouldn’t expect Kouma to have the type of immediate impact Bezhanishvili had as a freshman last year, there is ample amount of playing time up for grabs. With the addition of Cockburn, I would expect to see more of Bezhanishvili from the four as well as Kouma. The starting nod will of course go to Giorgi, but Kouma gives the Illini an added rebounding prowess from the power forward position. If there’s one hole in Bezhanishvili’s game that needed addressed this offseason, it was crashing the boards.
At the very least, Kouma gives Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood a few new combinations to look at down low and grabs seven or eight minutes a game to give Giorgi a breather.
With Kouma officially on board now, the Illini have two available scholarships for 2019.
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