CHAMPAIGN — There were the rim-rattling dunks, high-flying blocks and bone-crushing screens, all of which made Kofi Cockburn a fan favorite and one of the most dominant big men in the country during his two seasons at Illinois.
Cockburn, a 7-foot, 285-pound center, has done everything but come right out and say that he’s remaining in the 2021 NBA Draft and won’t be returning to Champaign.
The Jamaica native made a post on Instagram on Tuesday with a heartfelt caption, signaling that his time with the Illini is over.
“Extremely happy to have been apart of and represented a program like this, I enjoyed every single day I spent in Champaign and I am proud of the growth I had while I was there, words can’t express how much I love the Illini and I wouldn’t trade that part of my journey for the world,” Cockburn wrote.
Cockburn began auctioning off his memorabilia online Wednesday via The Players Trunk website. His collection features several game-worn items such as jerseys, shorts and shoes. The Players Trunk describes itself as, “A platform for former college athletes to control their name, image, and likeness while building their individual brands.”
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Although the state of Illinois legislature passed a NIL bill Tuesday that would allow college athletes in the state to profit off of their NIL, it is still awaiting a signature from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and wouldn’t take effect until July 1. Since that bill, which was sponsored by former Illini and Illinois state representative Kam Buckner, hasn’t been given the green light just yet, Cockburn’s willingness to sell his memorabilia shows that he is ready to close the door on amateurism and begin his professional career.
Former Illini Kam Buckner sponsoring Illinois’ name, image and likeness bill for college athletes
Cockburn originally declared for the 2021 NBA Draft on April 18. The draft will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on July 29. Cockburn is not expected to be selected among the 60 picks, according to NBADraft.net.
“Basketball took me places that I wouldn’t dare dream of as a boy, it taught me lessons in life,” Cockburn wrote on Instagram in April. “The NBA has been a life long dream of mine and I am ready to go to the next level and see what’s in store for me. This journey is really special to me and I appreciate everyone who played a part in getting me here.”
Cockburn was a key piece of Illinois’ resurgence. He averaged 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Third Team All-Big Ten honors during the team’s 21-10 season in 2019-20.
The 7-footer was even more imposing as a sophomore, averaging 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game during the 2020-21 season. Cockburn led the nation with 78 dunks and was a First Team All-Big Ten honoree and consensus Second Team All-American. He recorded 16 double-doubles as the Illini went 24-7, claiming their first Big Ten Tournament championship since 2005 and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Cockburn is still listed on Illinois’ 2021-22 roster, though that is likely to change in the near future.
In the absence of Cockburn, the most notable big men currently on the Illini’s roster are 6-10 junior Omar Payne, who transferred from Florida, and 6-10 sophomore Coleman Hawkins. Payne averaged 3.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in two seasons with the Gators, while Hawkins averaged 1.4 points per game as a reserve for Illinois last season.
Illinois basketball uniforms through the years
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