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Cockburn staying with Illini after entering portal

Illinois basketball star Kofi Cockburn, the best player to enter the transfer portal since its introduction, announced Friday he was returning to Champaign to play another season for the Fighting Illini.

Cockburn entered the transfer portal on July 1, the last day to enter and still be eligible to play elsewhere next season. Kentucky was initially considered the favorite due to the Wildcats hiring assistant coaches Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua from Illinois’ staff this offseason, while Florida State was also on Cockburn’s final list of three schools.

Sources told ESPN at the time that Cockburn hadn’t closed the door on a return to Illinois, and Brad Underwood and his staff were able to convince the 7-foot Jamaica native to come back to the Big Ten.

Arguably the most dominant big man in the country, Cockburn earned first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors last season after averaging 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season. He shot 65.4% from the field and had 16 double-doubles, including a 33-point, 13-rebound performance against Minnesota in December. He also had 26 points against Luka Garza and Iowa in the Big Ten tournament.

Illinois, which won the Big Ten Conference tournament and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament, lost two starters from last season, including All-American point guard Ayo Dosunmu. With Cockburn back in the fold, however, the Fighting Illini have an argument to be ranked inside the top 25. Trent Frazier (10.2 PPG) and Andre Curbelo (9.1 PPG) will form a dynamic backcourt, while Da’Monte Williams (5.5 PPG) and Jacob Grandison (4.6 PPG) will split time on the wing.

Underwood also brings in ESPN 100 recruits Ramses Melendez (No. 54) and Luke Goode (No. 80), along with transfers Omar Payne and Alfonso Plummer from Florida and Utah, respectively.

Cockburn is likely to be a first-team preseason All-American and the preseason favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year.

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