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Kofi Cockburn returning to Illinois for junior season

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Drexel at Illinois Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Kofi Cockburn will be back in Champaign this fall, and he’ll have a chance to be the country’s best player.

The rising junior center announced on Friday that he intends to play for Illinois during the 2021-22 season. His decision follows months of doubt about whether he would ever play for the Illini again, after putting his name in the NBA Draft and later entering the transfer portal.

Nonetheless, Cockburn chose to return to Illinois rather than head to Kentucky — which now has two of Illinois’ formers assistants — or Florida State, a powerhouse for building big men.

“We are beyond thrilled to have Kofi remain a Fighting Illini and add the nation’s top player to our lineup,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Kofi has been thorough during every step of his process, from exploring professional opportunities to making the decision to return to college. He has played a major role in our success the last two years and has more individual and team goals to achieve this season. Kofi will have the chance to expand new aspects of his game while continuing to be a dominant inside force on both ends of the floor.”

The Kingston, Jamaica, native is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. It was Cockburn — not Luka Garza, Trevion Williams or Trayce Jackson-Davis — who led the Big Ten in double-doubles and rebounding.

Cockburn was the only player in the NCAA to average at least 15 points and 9 rebounds while shooting at least 60% from the field. As a result, Cockburn’s excellence earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team and as a Second Team All-American, which means his jersey will also one day hang in the rafters at State Farm Center.

Staying at Illinois, Cockburn will potentially enter the season as a favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, and possibly the Naismith Trophy. He led the nation last season with 78 dunks.

We’ll have plenty more coverage on The Champaign Room of Cockburn’s decision, but to sum it all up, this is huge for Illinois.

The Illini, a program that has had its heart broken time and time again over the past decade, was able to garner a second re-commitment from Cockburn to stay with the program.

Whatever Brad Underwood is doing, it’s working. Illinois will still be a top-10 team at some point next season.

Anyhow, here’s the current scholarship chart.