In the only two seasons he played after winning Big Ten Rookie of the Year at the University of Illinois, Kofi Cockburn was a two-time consensus All-American.
His scoring jumped from 13.3 to 17.4 to 20.9 points per game, and his rebounding leapt from 8.8 to 9.5 to 10.6 boards per contest. Over his three-season career, he shot 59.6% from the field, and although he isn’t a perimeter threat, he made 62.3% of his free throws on 6.5 attempts per contest.
Basically, the former Oak Hill Academy and Christ The King center has been one of the most productive collegiate bigs in the past couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, like other traditional 5s who get theirs in the post and probably would’ve been a first-round pick a decade or two ago, the 7-foot, 293-pound big man starting at a lottery green room in his future.
At the NBA Draft Combine last week, Cockburn let it be known to reporters that he could be staring at being undrafted right in the face.
“I think it’s very unique,” Cockburn said of his situation. “A lot of people tell me, back then, if it was the 1990s, I’d be drafted probably top-10. When I look at it now, the game has changed, but it hasn’t changed that much. There are still big men that need to rebound that need to play defense, be vocal, give their guards, put their guards in better position to score.”
One executive told The Athletic that Cockburn should’ve stayed in school. Cockburn insists, however, that he’s ready and people are underestimating his ability to produce in the modern NBA.
“A lot of people doubt my ability to adapt to make the NBA,” Cockburn said. “(I just want) to show that you could put me in whatever situation (and) I’ll definitely contribute — whether that’s rebounding, setting good screens, rolling — just to show them I can do that at the next level... My motor, I’m relentless, I’ll give you extra possessions, definitely set good screens, I roll, I play good defense, I bring the energy, I talk.”
BasketballNews.com's draft coverage team doesn’t have Cockburn listed on its latest 2022 NBA Mock Draft as of this writing.
Our Sr. NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock explains that, while Cockburn’s ability is unquestionable, the reason he’s not registering on mock drafts is rooted in the questions he is attempting to answer to.
Though, Babcock adds that he’s not a name to be ignored with the draft looming less than a month away:
There is no denying that Kofi Cockburn had a significant impact at the college level. However, there are legitimate concerns about how he’ll translate to the next level. He is a big-bodied 5 who is incredibly physical, but he doesn’t have much perimeter skills on the offensive end, and it’s questionable whether he can keep up on the defensive side in the NBA, which is more spread out and fast.
I do not currently have Cockburn projected to be selected in the draft, but he is a relevant prospect. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name called on draft night.
Although we might not hear his name called on draft night, it’s likely we’ll hear about Cockburn at some point this summer — regardless of if he’s one of 60 picks made on June 23. (Note: It’s actually 58 picks since the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks forfeited their second-rounders this year.)
Cockburn, who also entered the draft in 2021 and produced in the G League Elite Camp before returning to school, believes that he’ll be impactful however it shakes out for him. Sure, he probably won’t get 20 and 10 a night in the NBA, but could he follow a model being laid out by current bigs of similar size and skill sets.
“The NBA is changing obviously,” Cockburn acknowledges. “It’s all about big guys being in shape and being able to have an impact — whatever that impact is. Not necessarily coming in and shooting threes, but always having an impact on the game.”
For him — as is the case with at least 95% of prospects and players in the league overall — fit will be significant, as will be his own player development and work ethic.
He recognizes that, and hopes to change some minds going forward.
Getting a workout with the Atlanta Hawks isn’t a bad start.