Illinois center Kofi Cockburn said Tuesday he's withdrawn his name from the 2021 NBA draft class and will continue to explore transfer options, including Kentucky, after entering the NCAA's transfer portal last week.
Cockburn told ESPN's Jonathan Givony he's "open" to all options and could still return to the Fighting Illini, but his connection to former Illinois assistant Orlando Antigua, who's joined the Wildcats staff, puts UK firmly in the conversation.
"Kentucky? It's a serious option. Antigua is my guy," he said. "I'm going to consider them, but there [are] a lot of schools. I wasn't really focused on that while I was in the NBA draft. Now I can take my time and evaluate it better."
Cockburn put together a strong sophomore season for the Illini in 2020-21. He averaged 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 65.4 percent from the floor across 31 appearances.
The 21-year-old Jamaica native explained to Givony he felt prepared to make the NBA jump but didn't receive the type of response he wanted from the league's decision-makers.
"I think I'm ready for the next level, but I wasn't happy with the input I was getting from NBA teams," Cockburn said. "I didn't want to settle. I'm going to return for another year, raise my game and improve my draft stock."
In a different era, the 7-foot, 285-pound post player would likely be a top-10 draft pick. The NBA game has evolved toward more versatile big men, however, and the 2021 first-team All-Big Ten selection's game is still a work in progress in that regard.
Cockburn has attempted only one three-point shot and dished out just 25 assists in 62 games for Illinois, and he confirmed to Givony those were the most common concerns raised by pro teams.
"NBA teams are going to see my mid-range game next year and my playmaking," he said.
He'd be a welcome sight for any college program, but especially Kentucky as head coach John Calipari and Co. attempt to quickly bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor 9-16 campaign.
The Wildcats ranked 108th in rebound rate last season (via TeamRankings), and Cockburn could provide an immediate boost on the glass.
That said, it sounds like UK will have ample competition for the center in the transfer portal as he tries to find the best program to bolster his NBA stock heading toward the 2022 draft.