Kofi Cockburn returning to Illinois for sophomore season

Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn is returning to the Fighting Illini for his sophomore season, a decision that establishes Brad Underwood's program as legitimate Big Ten title contenders.

The 7-footer had entered his name into the NBA draft in the spring but left his options open to return to school and announced his decision Saturday. Cockburn wasn't ranked in the top 100 of ESPN's draft rankings and wasn't a lock to be drafted.

Cockburn, a native of Jamaica, averaged 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a freshman, winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He notched 12 double-doubles, including five in the first six games of his career and a 22-point, 15-rebound effort against Purdue in January.

Cockburn's decision comes less than 24 hours after teammate Ayo Dosunmu also announced his intentions to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to Illinois. With Cockburn and Dosunmu -- a potential preseason All-American -- back in the fold, Underwood has a Big Ten title contender and potential preseason top-10 team on his hands.

The Fighting Illini bring back five players who started at least 22 games last season, when Illinois won five of its final six games to finish 13-7 in the Big Ten and 21-10 overall. The team was poised for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013.

In addition to the returnees, Underwood brings in one of the top recruiting classes in the league. Top-50 guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo will push for minutes right off the bat and will make an impact, while four-star forward Coleman Hawkins could surprise up front.