The top-ranked player in the CBS Sports college basketball transfer rankings isn’t transferring after all, as Illinois star Kofi Cockburn announced Friday that he’s returning to the Illini for a third season. Cockburn’s return is huge for Illinois after the 7-footer seemed intent on pursuing a professional career and then entered the transfer portal before ultimately withdrawing from the NBA Draft.
“It’s to bring the national championship back to Champaign,” Cockburn said in a video announcing his decision.
Cockburn considered Kentucky and Florida State as transfer destinations but will return to lead a team that should again be among the best in the Big Ten after a breakthrough 2020-21 campaign. With Cockburn patrolling the post, the Illini earned a No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Cockburn averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds on 65.4% shooting last season while earning second-team All-American honors from CBS Sports.
Illinois loses first-team All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu but will return talented guards Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo to form a strong nucleus along with Cockburn. Despite his dominance in college basketball, Cockburn’s professional credentials remain a work in progress due to his status as a throwback center. Few can match his interior physicality, but Cockburn will likely have to develop a 3-point shot and show defensive development to become a first-round NBA Draft prospect.