NCAA suspends Illinois star Cockburn 3 games

Illinois star center Kofi Cockburn has been suspended by the NCAA for the first three games of the regular season for selling “institutionally issued apparel and memorabilia” in June, the school announced on Monday.

The sales would have been legal under name, image and likeness legislation in the state of Illinois, which was enacted on July 1, but it was illegal under NCAA rules at the time because it took place in June.

In addition to the suspension, Cockburn will repay the proceeds from his sales by donating to a charity of his choice.

Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood said he was “disappointed” in the NCAA’s ruling.

“We are disappointed with the three-game suspension, because there were unprecedented factors and altered timelines related to his decision to ultimately withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to school,” Underwood said. “Once Kofi had a full understanding of where he stood regarding the draft, he made an educated decision to return to school, work toward his degree, and continue improving his game. That said, we understand and respect the NCAA’s decision in this matter, and we will move forward accordingly. As always, Kofi’s attitude and outlook remain upbeat and positive. He is focused on helping his teammates prepare for the season, and we can’t wait to have him rejoin us on the court.”

Cockburn, a 7-foot Jamaica native, was named a preseason All-American last month after earning first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America honors last season. He was the most dominant big man in the country, averaging 17.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 65.4% from the field.

Cockburn entered his name into the NBA draft following his last season but withdrew and entered the transfer portal on July 1. Kentucky was initially considered the heavy favorite for his commitment, but two weeks after entering the portal, Cockburn announced he was returning to Champaign for his junior season.

Illinois, ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP poll, opens its season against Jackson State on Nov. 9. Cockburn will miss the opener, as well as games against Arkansas State and at Marquette. He will return for the Fighting Illini’s game against Cincinnati on Nov. 22.

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