Kofi Cockburn signs with Utah Jazz after going undrafted in 2022 NBA Draft

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Cameron Krasucki

Center Kofi Cockburn celebrates on the court during the Big Ten Championship on March 6.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Following a three-year career at Illinois, center Kofi Cockburn signed his first professional contract with the Utah Jazz early this morning after going undrafted Thursday night. The All-American will be given a chance to prove himself to the NBA this summer with the Jazz reportedly offering the former Illinois big an Exhibit 10 contract.

An Exhibit 10 contract in the NBA is a one-year, minimum-salary contract that is essentially unguaranteed, allowing for the player to be cut by the team or signed to a larger contract down the line. As an undrafted free agent, this is exactly the type of opportunity Cockburn needed. This summer is going to be a big one for the 7-foot center, who will have to prove his worth to the Jazz in order to be offered a two-way contract or even a spot on the roster in the future. 

The All-American has dominated the paint in college basketball season after season, and the Jazz will be getting an absolute force of a player. Cockburn averaged 17.2 points and 9.6 rebounds during his three years with the Illini, helped the program make two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and won both a Big Ten Tournament and a Big Ten regular season title. Additionally, Cockburn’s role in putting Illinois basketball back on the map has already ensured that his jersey will hang from the rafters of State Farm Center. 

“He came here as a young guy, hadn’t played in a high school All-Star game, and leaves here as a two time All-American and one of the most celebrated players in our history,” said head coach Brad Underwood just hours after Cockburn’s commitment to the draft. “His jersey will hang here.”

Cockburn came to Illinois as a four-star recruit and continued to improve each year. The center averaged 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in his freshman season, 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in his sophomore season and 20.9 points and 10.6 rebounds in his junior season. Cockburn’s legacy at Illinois will never be disputed. The ‘King of Champaign’ came, saw and certainly conquered. 

2022 marks the third time the big man had declared for the NBA Draft, as he’d chosen to return to Illinois the previous two times. In declaring again this year, Cockburn chose to forgo his remaining college eligibility and go all in on the NBA. While the Illini fan base was understandably sad to see him depart, Cockburn was able to leave Champaign as a Big Ten champion. 

Going into last night’s draft, most draft analysts and mock drafts had Cockburn going undrafted. However, this doesn’t mean there was zero interest in 7-foot center. Cockburn worked out with five NBA teams (one of which being the Utah Jazz) and participated at the NBA Draft Combine prior to last night. Overall, there was little doubt that the All-American would one day grace the courts of the NBA. It always seemed like a question of when, and what his journey to the top would look like. 

While not hearing his name called last night was disappointing, it likely gives Cockburn a healthy chip on his shoulder as he heads off to training in Utah. The big man has everything to work for this summer as he begins his journey through the world of the NBA.

 

@james_kim15

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