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Illinois Year in Review: Male athlete of the year Kofi Cockburn | Sports


Why he’s athlete of the year

Here’s how important Kofi Cockburn was to Illinois’ success the past three seasons. Nearly everything Illini coach Brad Underwood did on the court from a style and scheme standpoint — at both ends — changed when Cockburn got to campus three years ago. Gone was the hyper-aggressive, denial-heavy defense and an offense run out of the high post. In its place was a system better suited to the skills of a 7-foot, 293-pound center. Cockburn thrived as the most physically dominant college basketball player in the country, which his final season only further illustrated. Cockburn doubled down on his legacy with a First-Team All-America caliber season in which he was the only player nationally to put up at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

What they’re saying

“I think you’ve got to give Kofi a tremendous amount of credit. One, he’s unique. I think we all identified that Kofi’s 7-foot and he’s 300 pounds, and there’s not many of those out there. To take that size and structure and body and work as hard as he worked to become an elite player, that speaks to who Kofi is. You’re not just a 7-foot, 300-pound body. You’re a 7-foot, 300-pound body that became a two-time All-American. That’s not done without putting in the time in the gym. He won a lot of games. There’s two championships that are going to hang in the arena because of him. His name and jersey will hang in the rafters here, as they should. He’s really a one-of-a-kind guy.” — Illinois coach Brad Underwood

“He trusted us when he came in, when it wasn’t very good, and has been a big part of what we’ve done the last three years. He worked. He put in the work, and he bought in to what we asked him to do. He perfected pretty well, and he was pretty dominant here for a while. I can’t say enough good things about him. Love the kid.” — Illinois assistant coach Geoff Alexander

“Really excited for Kofi and his professional opportunity. Obviously, one of the great players in the history of our program. Look forward to hoisting his jersey up into the rafters at the right time. Just an incredible young man. Somebody who came here and along with Ayo (Dosunmu) shares responsibility for changing the trajectory that our basketball program has been traveling. Really look forward to building on what he laid here in terms of a foundation, and grateful to him — and always will be — for the time that he gave us.” — Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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