Last offseason, Illini fans were thrilled when Kofi Cockburn announced his return to Illinois for his sophomore season. He built on his stellar freshman campaign, where he was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Year, with greater awards in year two, finishing as a Second-Team All-American performer.
Frequently teaming up in the pick and roll with fellow Illini All-American Ayo Dosunmu, Cockburn presented a formidable challenge on the interior for opponents night in and night out. Cockburn, like Dosunmu, is likely to see his name brandished in the rafters at the State Farm Center, and let’s dive into the numbers to see why.
By the Numbers
Cockburn started 30 of 31 games for the Illini this season, finishing with 17.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 1.3 BPG. Cockburn’s role in the offense grew this season, where he averaged between 10.5 shot attempts a game vs 9.2 in 2019-20, and completed them at a higher rate (65.4%) than his freshman season (53.2%). The same can’t be said for his free throw shooting, where he backslid to a mere 55.3% on free throws this season compared to 67.7% in his first year, despite getting to the stripe more often (5.3 attempts per game in 2019-2020 vs. 7 attempts per game in 2020-21).
While he left plenty of points at the line this season, his contributions as a shot blocker and unstoppable force on the block offensively drove the Illini to new heights this season. Cockburn had many signature moments in what was a spectacular year for the big man, but the Big Ten season opener against Minnesota, when he had 33 points and 13 rebounds, and the Big Ten Tournament game against Iowa, when he finished with 26 points and 8 rebounds while besting Big Ten and National Player of the Year Luka Garza.
These performances encapsulate Cockburn’s dominance and ability to impose his will on Big Ten opponents over his great two-year career.
Coach Underwood and the Illini faithful are eagerly awaiting to see if Cockburn will keep his name in the NBA Draft after declaring over the weekend.
Kofi’s return would likely put Illinois right back in the race for a Big Ten title and high NCAA Tournament seed once again, while his departure would significantly temper the expectations for next season’s Illini squad (which are still high with the return of Trent Frazier!). Given his limited offensive and defensive versatility, Cockburn’s game may not translate to a high draft grade, given the NBA’s premium on shooting and guarding multiple positions.
Still, will he follow his teammate Dosunmu, who will keep his name in the NBA Draft, and cash in on his All-American season, or will he return to continue building on his already impressive Illini legacy? For now, he continues working with Illini Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Fletcher to keep himself prepared for whatever his next step is. The Illini coaching staff and Illini faithful surely hope he comes back for Year Three.