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Illinois Basketball Player Preview: Kofi Cockburn

Expectations are sky-high for the Illini’s sophomore center.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

When Kofi Cockburn made his official visit to Champaign as a high school senior, he watched the Illini lose to Florida Atlantic. A week later, on the day he committed, Illinois blew a second half lead to Northwestern and fell to 4-11 on the season. Brad Underwood was 18-29 at Illinois, and the future of the program looked bleak.

Illinois Basketball hadn’t given him much to believe in, but Kofi Cockburn believed anyway.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and Brad Underwood has turned the program around. The Illini are ranked 8th in the country after a resurgent season. And Kofi Cockburn earned himself the title of Big Ten Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

What to Expect

Kofi Cockburn was phenomenal as a freshman, and his sophomore season should be that much better. He has been named on the preseason All-Big Ten team and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award watch list, and CBS Sports ranked him as the 17th-best player in the country entering the season. It’s no exaggeration to call him a potential All-American.

Here’s the crazy part about Kofi’s success: he’s just barely scratched the surface of what he can do. He first played organized basketball as a freshman in high school, and he was still somewhat raw last year. He couldn’t shoot from outside, and he didn’t have any real post moves either. And yet, he averaged over 13 points a game. Imagine if he could make a baby hook or a jumper.

Kofi did excel in several areas last season however, and there’s no reason to think he will slow down. He will still anchor the defense. He will still dominate the glass. He will still punish defenses on pick and rolls. But I imagine he’s used the offseason to expand his offensive arsenal too, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten.

Kofi earned a lot of recognition last season, and rightfully so, but perhaps the most impressive part of his success was who it came against. He had to play the likes of Jalen Smith, Xavier Tillman, Kaleb Wesson and Daniel Oturu among others, every night in the Big Ten. And he still won Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Last year, Kofi was raw, and he faced the best centers in the country. He averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds. Now, he’s had time to develop, and the all-conference big men have left for the NBA. College basketball, here’s your warning: watch out for Kofi Cockburn.