Illinois men’s basketball welcomes Jackson State, opens regular season without Kofi Cockburn

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Sydney Laput

Forward Coleman Hawkins looks to the basket during the game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania Oct. 29. Illinois will host Jackson State today at State Farm Center to start off the regular season without Kofi Cockburn.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

The No. 11-ranked Illini open the season against Jackson State University, Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Unfortunately, they’ll do so without several key pieces.

Star center Kofi Cockburn will miss the season opener and two games after that for selling basketball memorabilia in June. Trent Frazier and Austin Hutcherson are listed as day-to-day. 

The Illini look to live up to their highest preseason ranking in over a decade. Though Jackson State is unlikely to pull out a win, they could challenge the shorthanded Illini.

The Jackson State Tigers were named Southwestern Athletic Conference co-champions last year. Like the Illini, Jackson State returns an experienced roster, including last year’s SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Jayveous McKinnis along with Jonas James III and Isaiah Williams. 

Head coach Brad Underwood had MckKnnis on his mind in his press conference on Monday. The Illini will have to battle for rebounds with the senior, who averaged 13.2 of them last year, and will have to do so without their best rebounder.

“We know we’re getting 30-plus minutes a game without Kofi and multiple rebounds and multiple points,” Underwood said. “You just take the National Player of the Year off any team, and there’s going to be a significant loss. It’s a great opportunity for others.”

Coleman Hawkins and Omar Payne are the “others.” Whoever gets the nod will be starting their first regular-season game as an Illini. Hawkins impressed the most during preseason, as the 6-foot-10-inch forward/center showed off defensive and rebounding skills to play in the post and much more. He’s seen some time at point guard in practice this week. 

“I think people forget that I’m 6-10, 6-11,” Hawkins said. “I have length, I’m able to block shots, I’ll be able to rebound. It will put me in better rebounding position actually. I think it’s going to be difficult, even more difficult for teams to guard because the way we can use me on offense, that’s another advantage right there. I’m ready. Whatever position Coach tells me, I’m ready for it.”

Senior Da’Monte Williams will return from injury Tuesday after missing the final preseason game. Williams started the first game at forward and will likely be in the same position to start against Jackson State, though he has also spent time at point guard this week. Underwood has placed an emphasis on spreading out the initiator duties.

Williams played point guard at Manual High School in Peoria, but he has yet to do so at Illinois. It’s unclear how the ball-handling duties will be spread out this season, but it’s clear Curbelo won’t be the only point guard. I’d love to see Hawkins at point guard as much as possible, if nothing else, it’d be a sight to see. A 6-foot-10-inch point guard is rare even in the NBA, but Underwood has high hopes for Hawkins.

“We’re a little less proven at those spots than we were, but that doesn’t mean we’re less talented,” Underwood said. “I love Coleman. I’m telling you, Coleman Hawkins is going to be spectacular.”

 

@JonesChristianT

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