Cockburn's commitment sets new precedent for Illini recruiting

Cockburn's commitment sets new precedent for Illini recruiting

CHAMPAIGN — Kofi Cockburn had a front-row seat for Illinois' 73-71 overtime loss to Florida Atlantic. A game where the Illini big men combined for just seven points and three rebounds (all Giorgi Bezhanishvili) and the Owls got what they wanted offensively attacking the basket.

It was enough for Cockburn's mentor Karriem Memminger to tell SportsNet New York basketball insider Adam Zagoria "there's a desperate need" for Cockburn at Illinois after the official visit. The five-star center must have agreed.

Cockburn committed to Illinois on Sunday, giving the Illini five-star prospects in consecutive years following Ayo Dosunmu in the 2018 class. The rebuild continues for Brad Underwood at Illinois and stacking classes — adding more talent each successive year — is vital to that rebuild actually working.

"It's ginormous in more than one way, right?" said national basketball analyst Corey Evans. "From his size alone, it kind of squelches the need. One issue with Illinois the last year or two has been lack of big guys. They haven't had issues getting guards — Ayo (Dosunmu) and Da'Monte (Williams) and Trent Frazier — but what about down low?

"I think that getting a guy like Kofi who can be a central figure at the 5, that just allows so much stylistically — how they're going to play and go about doing things — but also just as a rim presence."

Underwood came to Illinois known for an uptempo style of offense. But the Illini have made a concerted effort the past two games to work the ball through the post offensively — feeding Bezhanishvili at Indiana and Adonis De La Rosa at Northwestern. Adding Cockburn, who's averaging 15.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks at Oak Hill Academy (Va.), likely portends more of that in the 2019-20 season.

Cockburn was a fit at Illinois even if Underwood's position-less style maybe quite isn't.

"The relationship they had there," Evans said was important. "(Assistant coach Orlando Antigua had a great rapport with him and his people, and it being the Big Ten Conference, which is still more of a throwback in terms of relying on big man, definitely helped."

Cockburn's commitment also means more than what the 6-foot-10, 280-pound center might do for Illinois on the basketball court. Landing five-star recruits in consecutive classes gives the Illini coaching staff a little more recruiting cachet.

"Ayo was the highest-level prospect they landed since 2002," Evans said, referencing Illini Hall of Famer Dee Brown. "To do it again the following year definitely sets a precedent. Now it's about going out there and doing it on the floor, which has to happen — 4-11 is not going to suffice for Illinois fans."

The back-to-back recruitments of Dosunmu and Cockburn could also help Illinois in the 2020 class. Chicago-area guards Adam Miller and D.J. Steward are priorities, but the Illini have their sights set pretty high nationally, too, with offers out to 16 of the top 50 prospects in the 2020 class. That includes a pair of guards in Arizona — Kyree Walker out of Hillcrest Prep and Addison Patterson out of Bella Vista Prep — who have been discussed as potential reclassification candidates for 2019.

"Stacking five-star after five-star, it definitely helps while kind of, I think, piquing the interest of these higher level guys," Evans said. "It kind of makes it a little more cool to go to Illinois now."

Next in line

Illinois might have just landed a five-star center, but recruiting never stops. Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY highlights five prospects the Illini could target to fill their last remaining open scholarship:

Kaden Archie, 6-6, 205, SF


Archie's in a different situation than the rest of the players on this list given he was a 2018 recruit and played 10 games at TCU this season. But the former four-star wing is transferring, and Illinois was in the mix the last time.

Christian Brown, 6-6, 200, SF

Oak Hill Academy (Va.)

A more recent Illinois recruiting target, Brown plays at Oak Hill with new Illini commit Kofi Cockburn. The top-100 wing, who has 16 total high-major offers, is averaging 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds this year for the Warriors.

Terrence Shannon Jr., 6-7, 185, SF

IMG Academy (Fla.)

The former Lincoln Park standout has gone quiet on the recruiting front after committing and decommitting from DePaul in a week's time last summer and releasing a new top six in early November that included the Illini

Tristan Enaruna, 6-7, 205, SF

Wasatch Academy (Utah)

Enaruna still only has a handful of offers, so the Illini have an early foot in the door if Enaruna's recruitment takes off. Which it might. The Dutch wing is averaging 10.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists for Wasatch Academy.

Lester Quinones, 6-5, 200, SG

IMG Academy (Fla.)

Shannon's teammate at IMG has held an Illinois offer since December 2017, but the New York native's recruitment seems to be trending away from Champaign. Maryland, Georgia, UCLA and LSU are all reported leaders for Quinones.