Kofi Cockburn, Illinois

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who is in the NCAA transfer portal, will make a decision Friday. He's choosing between the Illini, Florida State and Kentucky.

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Ever since Illinois star Kofi Cockburn entered the NCAA transfer portal July 1, there has been widespread speculation that Kentucky would be the 7-foot center's next stop.

After the 2020-21 season, former Illini assistants Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua left Champaign and joined coach John Calipari's staff in Lexington. Antigua and Cockburn have a close relationship, and Cockburn even told ESPN on July 6 that Antigua was "the reason I went to Illinois."

A reunion with Antigua at Kentucky, however, will not happen, according to The Athletic's Kyle Tucker. He reported Wednesday that Cockburn's recruitment has now become a two-horse race between Illinois and, surprisingly, Florida State. The Seminoles have made three straight NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen appearances and are poised for another strong campaign in 2021-22.

According to Tucker, "Cockburn never visited Kentucky and the recruitment never heated up to the point that Cockburn and Calipari actually spoke, sources say."

Cockburn, who withdrew from the 2021 NBA Draft on July 6, announced Tuesday via Twitter that he will make a decision Friday at an unspecified time. On Wednesday, the junior shared his top three choices via Twitter and Instagram: Illinois, Florida State and still Kentucky.

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Cockburn was named a consensus Second Team All-American last season and is considered the No. 1 player in the transfer portal by CBS Sports. However, Lex 18 News sports anchor Keith Farmer confirmed Wednesday that Cockburn and Calipari haven't spoken, according to his sources. Instead, "UK is focusing its efforts on Jalen Duren," Farmer tweeted.

Duren, a 6-10 center, is ranked as the No. 1 player in the country for the Class of 2022 by 247Sports and Rivals. However, according to ZagsBlog's Adam Zagoria, Duren is "expected to reclassify and enroll in college for the 2021-22 season, sources said."

The consensus five-star center will most likely be a one-and-done player, if he even attends college. Duren announced July 2 via Instagram that he's considering five options: Kentucky, Memphis or Miami, or forgoing a college career and playing professionally in the NBA G League or National Basketball League in Australia.

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Aside from Cockburn, Kentucky has already landed one transfer big man in Oscar Tshiebwe, who came over from West Virginia midway through last season. The 6-9 forward sat out the rest of the 2020-21 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules but will be eligible to play again this winter.

With Tshiebwe in hand, Kentucky appears to be going all in on Duren, who is projected as a future NBA Draft lottery pick.

Meanwhile, Illinois coach Brad Underwood told WCIA's Marlee Wierda on Monday that he has been in contact with Cockburn and that the 7-footer is "our player — until he's not."

"I think we all have to understand that these are all educational times for guys to learn and gather as much information as they can on whatever front that is and that's where Kofi's at," Underwood added. "He knows he's got a tremendous legacy here (at Illinois) and has been a part of what we're doing, and we're always here to show him our love and help."

Cockburn averaged 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season to help the Illini go 24-7, win their first Big Ten Tournament title in 16 years and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He also notched 16 double-doubles and led the nation with 78 dunks.

Follow James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid

This article originally ran on pantagraph.com.


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