CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Even the head coach of the Fighting Illini found out Kofi Cockburn was coming back just like everyone else.
“I was on a plane recruiting, and I had a nice bottle of wine,” says Brad Underwood. “My daughter texted me and said, ‘He’s back.'”
The seven foot center returned to Illinois practice Wednesday, a few days after he announced his return. Much like Ayo Dosunmu’s return last season, the Illini coaches are taking Cockburn back as a welcome surprise to the starting lineup. Kofi had to enter his name into the transfer portal before July 1, but he says the race to win his signature was not much of a race at all.
“When it came down to the deadline, it was like, ‘Yea I may consider coming back to college.’ I just wanted to leave my options open, I didn’t really think about it that much,” says Cockburn. “Illinois has been my home and it’s going to continue to be my home for a long time.
“A lot of teams told me I’m ready to play now with my size and god-given abilities, but I don’t want to settle for that. If I can grow my game and get picked higher then so be it.”
Cockburn will add on to the massive amount of experience in the Illini team already. He joins super-seniors Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams, veterans Jacob Grandison and Alfonso Plummer, and returning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Andre Curbelo. Underwood believes that experience will pay dividends for them this season.
“There’s an advantage to having guys that have been in a weight program, guys that have been to a lot of practices,” says Underwood. “You’re talking about guys that have a lot of experience and there’s tremendous value in that. Very few Freshman truly walk into the highest levels and impact. So it’s an advantage to stay old, and you start looking at national championship teams they’re teams that are a little older.”
Underwood says Cockburn will be the final piece of the roster for the season. They will leave one scholarship open.