One of college basketball’s biggest stars will have to wait a few extra days to begin his 2021–22 campaign.
Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn, a returning Consensus All-American and the Big Ten’s preseason Player of the Year, has been suspended by the NCAA for the first three games of the season, per an Illinois release. The suspension relates to Cockburn selling his Illini team-issue gear on a website, The Players Trunk, in June, when Cockburn was still testing the NBA draft waters and widely expected, at that point, to remain in the draft. The sales were promoted well before July 1, when new NCAA name, image and likeness legislation took effect.
Cockburn will miss home games against Jackson State and Arkansas State as well as a road game at Marquette. His first game eligible will be Nov. 22 against Cincinnati in the Hall of Fame Classic.
“We are disappointed with the three-game suspension, because there were unprecedented factors and altered timelines related to his decision to ultimately withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said in a statement.
“Once Kofi had a full understanding of where he stood regarding the draft, he made an educated decision to return to school, work toward his degree, and continue improving his game. That said, we understand and respect the NCAA’s decision in this matter, and we will move forward accordingly. As always, Kofi’s attitude and outlook remain upbeat and positive. He is focused on helping his teammates prepare for the season, and we can’t wait to have him rejoin us on the court.”
Cockburn participated in the NBA’s G League Elite Camp in June and, after receiving feedback, elected to withdraw from the draft and enter the transfer portal. After receiving interest from nearly every major program in the sport in July, Cockburn announced his return to Illinois for his junior season, catapulting the Illini into the top 15 of the preseason AP poll released last week.
The Illini will be heavily favored to knock off Jackson State and Arkansas State even without Cockburn, but losing him for the toughest road test of the nonconference slate in Milwaukee could have significant ramifications. Florida transfer Omar Payne will likely fill in at center in Cockburn’s absence.
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