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Kofi Cockburn declares for 2020 NBA Draft

Cockburn spent one memorable season in Champaign.

Iowa v Illinois

Kofi Cockburn declared for the 2020 NBA Draft on Tuesday afternoon, according to a post on his Instagram page.

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Beyond blessed #FMF #IGIPMT

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“Ever since I began playing basketball a fire has been lit inside of me which I knew I had to pursue to the fullest extent, with that begin said, I have decided to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft,” the post read.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Cockburn committed to the Illini in January 2019. The five-star prospect added to a relatively weak class for Brad Underwood, following up a memorable class of Ayo Dosunmu, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Tevian Jones and Co.

While the 20-year-old started playing basketball relatively recently, he caught on fast and won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award for the shortened 2019-2020 season. He was also named the Big Ten’s Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press, made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, and was named to the media’s All-Big Ten Third Team. Cockburn also won seven Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, the second-most in conference history.

Cockburn was the only Illini to start all 31 games this season, a testament to his consistency throughout the freshman campaign. His 12 double-doubles were the fifth-most among freshman in the country and doubled the program’s previous record. He averaged 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and led the team with 44 blocked shots.

Many will remember Cockburn for his late-game heroics in what now may be his final college game, when he stuffed Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza and the Illini capped the season with a Senior Day win over Iowa.

His highest scoring output came against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 29 with 26 points, one of five 20-point performances during the year.

This may just be Cockburn testing the waters, as 247’s Derek Piper reports that he hasn’t shut out the idea of returning to Champaign for his sophomore campaign, but this is still relatively stunning news for the big man, who will never get to play in a NCAA Tournament if he leaves.

What We Said Back Then

Here’s what TCR writer Matt O’Neall had said about Cockburn prior to his freshman season.

Cockburn can provide an intimidating presence on the block that the Illini have been lacking for the latter half of the decade. The Illini have been woeful on defense since Underwood arrived and much of that is due to the disadvantage down low in Big Ten play. Leron Black and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have had terrific offensive seasons the last two years, but strength and defense wasn’t either player’s calling card. Cockburn gives the Illini a true B1G center who can bang bodies and clear people out of the paint.

Cockburn is going to need some time with Fletch. He has an outstanding frame to work with, but he needs to cut down his weight from 300 pounds and transform his body. It will be interesting to see how he looks after his first summer with a collegiate strength and conditioning program. Expect to hear stories from every broadcast crew recounting how much weight Cockburn has lost all season long.

Underwood will have to adjust as well. It’s not Kofi Cockburn’s game to be denying entry passes to opposing centers 18 feet from the basket. Frankly, it shouldn’t be a tactic we really employ at all. Underwood and Kofi Cockburn are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle on their stylistic ideals when it comes to basketball if Cockburn is going to reach his full potential in the Orange and Blue.

I don’t think Kofi Cockburn will start many games as a freshman, but he’ll see plenty of playing time. I think he’ll play close to 20 minutes per night and has a very good chance to lead the team in rebounding as a true freshman.

Not only did Kofi play a lot more than 20 minutes per night (27.5), but he led the team in rebounding by a wide margin by being the first true five they had in years.

Whatever happens next, at least he can still come back.

But if that’s it, it was a pleasure to watch, and we’re sorry that a NCAA Tournament appearance was never in the cards.