Illinois Basketball boasts big potential in NIL era


(WCIA) — The offseason clatter hasn’t slowed down for Illinois basketball — with Kofi Cockburn putting his name in the transfer portal. Less than two weeks ago, Cockburn told WCIA he was “all in” on the NBA draft — but it seems like he’s keeping all of his doors open — even if that means transferring to another program.

A change of heart could be anything from not getting a combine invite, to the name, image, and likeness opportunities now available for college athletes. Fifth-year senior Trent Frazier also had his name in the draft– he says the opportunity to sign endorsement deals while in school factored into his decision to come back.

“After the season ended, I wasn’t going to come back at first, but obviously having conversations with the coaching staff, and my parents, having a degree was way more important than anything in life,” says Frazier. “Hearing the talk nationwide about NIL being passed this summer, it persuaded be to come back because I knew the opportunity I had at stake.”

So far, Frazier has partnered with a few businesses including ‘Gopuff’, a food delivery service, along with ‘Cameo’ a video-sharing platform. A personalized message from him starts at $50. If Cockburn returns to college this season he has a huge outlet to reap the benefits as well.

“Somebody like Curbelo, like I knew him for a while, someone who came to Illinois and made a name for himself, and he was so good his freshman year,” said Cockburn in an interview back in June. “Somebody like him to be able to make money off his name, and likeness, it’s going to be big. Athletes weren’t provided that opportunity a while back, and now we’ll be getting more for our name, and what we do, so I’m really happy for every athlete that’s going to benefit from that.”

Curbelo’s seen success on the NIL front as well, partnering with the U of I Credit Union among others. By the numbers, Curbelo is one of the most popular Illini athletes with 57.2K followers on Instagram. Frazier has 28.7K, while Cockburn has 72.2K. Back in March, Illinois Basketball’s twitter account had 2.1 million interactions, the most of any Division I team. Head coach Brad Underwood says he’s excited about that potential, and what is means for his athletes.

“We do an unbelievable job in our program of helping our guys brand themselves, and when you tie into the younger generations, and you start seeing our activity on social media, that’s exciting,” says Underwood. “That’s what this thing is all about, this is the new world we live in college athletics, and why N-I-L could really work, and why it’s a tremendous opportunity of all of our student athletes.”

It’s only the beginning of the new era of college sports — the Illinois Student-Athletes Endorsement Act went into effect on Thursday, along with the NCAA’s interim policy for athletes across the country to profit off NIL.

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