Illinois center Kofi Cockburn suspended 3 games by the NCAA

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EAST LANSING, MI – FEBRUARY 23: Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) shoots a free throw during a college basketball game between the Michigan State Spartans and the Illinois Fighting Illini on February 23, 2021 at the Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing, MI. (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHAMPAIGN – After being named the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year last week, Illinois’ top player coming into the 2021-2022 season got some news that was not as good this week.

On Monday, the NCAA suspended center Kofi Cockburn for the first three games of this season after he sold basketball gear from Illinois in June to the website “The Player’s Trunk” after he’d declared for the NBA Draft. This occurred before the NIL took effect in July, which would have made the selling of the gear legal, but it wasn’t in June.

Cockburn will miss Illinois’ opener against Jackson State on November 9th, a game against Arkansas State on November 12th, and the Gavitt Tipoff Games contest against Marquette in Milwaukee. He’ll return for the team’s Hall of Fame Classic contest against Cincinnati in Kansas City on November 22nd.

Illini head coach Brad Underwood expressed his displeasure towards the NCAA at the decision in a statement following the announcement.

“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,” said Underwood in the 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 is expected to be on of the best players in college basketball in 2021 after two strong seasons to start his career in Champaign. After being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2020, Cockburn was named a consensus second-team All-American after averaging 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Illini.

The center was named the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Yearlastweek.

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