Illini Center Kofi Cockburn Developing Faster than Expected (Exclusive Interview)


Illinois center Kofi Cockburn came to Champaign with very lofty expectations as his recruiting rankings were quite high. After a thrilling 67-66 home victory over Indiana, Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood was asked if he expected his book rookie from Kingston, Jamaica to have the kind of stellar season that he’s currently enjoying.

“No,” he responded not once, or but twice, but three times. “I don’t expect many freshmen to do that, I don’t expect that much out of freshmen, but I’ve been blessed in having him and Ayo (Dosunmu, who was a huge contributor as a frosh last season).”

Having a dominant big man can really make a difference in the NCAA Tournament, where the game often slows down to the half court. If you’re going to bet, like you can do in earnest at Roulette77, on March Madness, you might want to back the Illini. The tourney is a major sports gambling event, but most wagerers don’t realize how smart a bet it is to back the team with a really reliable high percentage shot maker.

Cockburn is developing really quickly, but he still has room to grow.

“You want him to get to the level that you know he’s capable off, you forget he’s 18 years old because has has all the physical tools that makes him fun to work with,” Underwood continued, echoing the sentiments he expressed after Cockburn turned in an extremely dominant performance in the 74-66 road win at Northwestern on Thursday night:

“Because he doesn’t look like a freshman. We forget Kofi is a freshman.”

“His dominance early was huge,” Underwood said of Kofi’s performance in the decisive win over the in state rival. “To take over a Big Ten game, really at both ends, his presence at the front of the rim…”

We had an exclusive with Kofi Cockburn this week, where we talked about all the extra hours that the rookie big man has put in with Assistant Coach Orlando Antigua.

And no Coach Orlando, the first Hispanic Harlem Globetrotter in history, has not yet shown Kofi the highlight reel of his days with the traveling trick-shot troupe.

“My low post moves just being slow, being thorough, slowing down not rushing my shots,” Cockburn told The Sports Bank when asked what specifically he’s been working on with Antigua.

“Not speeding up but actually being deliberate.”

We also asked him who his basketball, on the court role models are.

“Boogie- DeMarcus Cousins, always watched him since I was young,” the young big man responded.

“I love Shaq because of his dominance, those are the two players I really watch.”

Kofi Cockburn already broke Deon Thomas’ 28-year-old record for the most single game rebounds by a freshman earlier this year (17, vs the Citadel, Nov 20) Averaging 9.1 rebounds heading into today’s win over Indiana, he’s on pace to absolutely shatter the Illini freshman record of 6.9 rebounds per game (Efrem Winters 1982-83).

Five different players have scored 20+ in a single game for Illinois this season, Cockburn described how his squad has developed their team mentality.

“We really emphasize that in practice, making the extra pass, skipping a good shot for a great shot, we have a good relationship and we just want to elevate the other guy,” he explained.

While Kofi Cockburn has exceeded expectations, he still has room to grow, and that means the ceiling for this Illini basketball team is very high.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link

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