Brad Underwood has had quite the stressful offseason. While it was well known that Ayo would be departing to the NBA, many assumed the Illini would be bringing back everyone else for another deep postseason run.
Unfortunately that assumption was far from the truth.
Illinois lost three key assistants in Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman, and Stephen Gentry and the unexpected departures of the promising Adam Miller and fan-favorite Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Adding to all of that was the unexpected news that star center Kofi Cockburn was entering the transfer portal.
Underwood has done well to adapt despite all of this turnover. He’s made some great hires to his staff, got some high profile recruits and transfers to join the program, convinced Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams to come back for one more run, and finally — and most importantly — got Kofi Cockburn to stay with the Illini, despite the rumors of a transfer.
Let’s take a look at how Underwood may have convinced Kofi to return.
The college basketball landscape was forever changed with the passing of the new NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) rules on July 1.
Part of Underwood’s pitch to Kofi had to include the massive opportunity Kofi has to capitalize on these new rules. As a returning All-American and the unquestioned star and leader of a top-15 team, Kofi will be an attractive endorsement option for businesses both in the Urbana-Champaign area and nationwide.
At Kentucky or Florida State, Kofi would have been just another guy and his marketability would have been handicapped by the other high-profile recruits on those respective teams.
The roster Underwood has built after Ayo’s departure should allow Kofi to shine.
Underwood has added a few talented shooters to our roster with Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer, and well-regarded recruits Luke Goode and Brandin Podziemski. This is in addition to the return of Jacob Grandison, Austin Hutcherson, Williams, and Frazier.
The spacing also has the additional benefit of clearing the way for what should be a deadly two-man game with Andre Curbelo. With all of this shooting on the roster surrounding Kofi there should be much more room for him to operate and dominate the paint.
The role Underwood could have pitched to Kofi is similar to that of Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns. A high-energy, rim-protecting center who can rack up stats by living in the paint. Ayton’s play in the playoffs has shown the value of having such a player, and if Kofi can showcase a similar skill set it should only boost his NBA stock.
While most of last season’s assistants have left the team, one of the holdovers is Strength & Conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.
Fletcher has been praised by multiple players for the positive influence he’s had on the team with his strength and conditioning program. Ayo also recently stated on his Instagram that Fletch was one of the main reasons why he chose to return to the Illini last year. This was further affirmed by countless commentators commenting on how “NBA ready” Ayo’s body seemed and how he was able to finish well through contact.
Fletcher’s influence was also evident in Kofi’s play, a much fit Kofi was able to stay on the floor for longer stretches of the game as a sophomore. He showcased increased mobility and quickness while also maintaining the strength that allows him to dominate the paint, keep in mind this was all after just one off season of Fletchers workouts.
Underwood might have pointed out exactly that in his discussions with Kofi. If Kofi continues to work with Adam Fletcher he can further shape his body to be NBA ready come 2022.
Kudos to Coach Underwood on helping keep Kofi on our team. Hopefully this will end what has stressful couple of months for Underwood and Illini fans everywhere.