If there was ever any doubt, the Big Ten made it official on Monday afternoon.
Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn was dubbed the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-Big Ten Third Team recipient from the media.
It’s the first time an Illini has taken home the award since D.J. Richardson was the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010 and the first time an Illini has won the award outright.
The 7-foot, 290-pound former four-star recruit came in with high expectations, but far surpassed anything even head coach Brad Underwood could have anticipated.
Cockburn racked up seven Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards over the course of the 2019-20 season, along with a Big Ten Player of the Week nod once back on Nov. 25.
A product of Kingston, Jamaica, he started all 31 games for the Illini this year while posting averages of 13.3 points per game and 8.8 rebounds on 53.2% shooting from the field and 67.7% from the line. He also notched a dozen double-doubles with a career-high of 26 points against North Carolina A&T back on Dec. 29. He pulled down at least 13 rebounds in seven different games.
Illinois’ resurgence from one of the worst seasons in program history to No. 4 seed in the conference tournament in the matter of one year is in large part due to Cockburn’s immediate impact. The freshman helped guide the Illini to a 21-10 regular season record and 13-7 in conference. Illinois will end its NCAA Tournament drought of seven years regardless of the outcome this weekend at the Big Ten Tournament, but a run to Sunday’s championship game would put the Illini in great position to lock up a top-5 seed when the bracket is released.