Wednesday's NCAA: Cockburn, Banchero declare for draft; Tshiebwe returning to Kentucky

Associated Press

Champaign, Ill. — Illinois All-America center Kofi Cockburn has declared for the NBA draft and hired an agent, marking the end of one of the most productive careers in program history.

Cockburn made the announcement on his social media channels Wednesday, and the Illinois athletic department confirmed it.

“To play in the NBA has been a longtime dream of mine and I truly think it's time for me to take that next step,” Cockburn wrote.

Illinois' Kofi Cockburn (21) and Trent Frazier (1) react while they lead in the second half.

The 7-foot Jamaican was an Associated Press All-America first-team pick this past season and will leave Illinois as the school's scoring and rebounding leader among three-year players and the record holder for double-doubles.

“This journey has been a very special one,” Cockburn wrote. “Never did I imagine being part of something so fun and extraordinary. So many people to thank but I don't know where to start, so many wonderful memories and bonds that I will cherish for a lifetime.”

Cockburn was the only player in the nation to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds last season and only player to rank in the top 20 in both categories. He had 17 double-doubles despite missing five games and he finished his career with 45, second most in the nation over the last three years. His 1,546 points and 861 rebounds are most among three-year players at Illinois.

Cockburn also entered the draft pool in 2020 and 2021 but withdrew both times.

“We wish Kofi the best as he prepares for his NBA career,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He leaves as the greatest center in Illini history, which is evident by his many accolades. But above those individual awards, it was his impact on winning that will leave a legacy. We’ll always be grateful to Kofi for what he’s meant to our program and know he has a bright future ahead.”

Duke's Banchero makes NBA leap after 1 year with Blue Devils

Duke’s Paolo Banchero is leaping to the NBA after one season as a candidate to be the No. 1 overall draft pick.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman announced his decision in a social media video Wednesday, with the school saying he planned to hire an agent.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play at Duke, and it has always been a dream of mine to play in the NBA,” Banchero said. "Duke has prepared me for that on and off the court. ... It has been a great journey and I’m blessed to be a part of The Brotherhood for life.”

Duke's Paolo Banchero earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and was named Freshman of the Year in the conference.

The freshman had been viewed as a likely one-and-done player even before he stepped foot on the Durham, North Carolina, campus from Seattle. Blessed with a strong frame, size and perimeter skills, Banchero went on to become a third-team All-America pick by the The Associated Press, and ranks No. 2 in ESPN's latest list of draft prospects.

The headliner on a talented recruiting class, Banchero averaged 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, cracking the 20-point mark 15 times while failing to reach double figures only twice in 39 games. He helped Duke reach now-retired Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four while also winning the program’s first outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 2006.

In a statement from the school, Krzyzewski said Banchero is “absolutely ready to attack the next phase" of his career.

“He is so dynamic, explosive and versatile — a model player in today’s NBA game. He did whatever we asked at a very high level,” Krzyzewski said. "I loved having him and his family in our program and wish him all the best as his professional career begins.”

Banchero also took advantage of opportunities for college athletes to cash in on their fame with endorsements, which began last summer with the NCAA permitted athletes to profit from use of their name, image and likeness (NIL).

In Banchero’s case, he worked with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) for marketing deals and got deals that included becoming the first player featured in the latest NBA 2K video game as well as a basketball trading card from Panini as part of a multi-year deal.

Now he's off to make even more money in the NBA.

Banchero is the second Duke player to announce an early jump to the NBA, following 7-foot-1 sophomore Mark Williams two days earlier.

Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe to return for senior season

Lexington, Ky. — Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe will return for his senior year with the Wildcats after a breakout season in which he swept national player of the year awards.

The 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe announced his decision Wednesday on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“I’ll be here next year for Kentucky,” he said.

Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky speaks as he is introduced as The Associated Press men's basketball player of the year, in New Orleans, Friday, April 1, 2022. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior received 46 of 60 votes from a national media panel. Wisconsin's Johnny Davis was second with 10 votes.

The junior’s decision was the most anticipated from a Wildcats squad that rode his dominant performance, especially on the boards. Tshiebwe led the nation with 15.1 rebounds per game and averaged 17.4 points. He also had 60 steals and 55 blocks. He finished the season with 16 consecutive double-doubles on the way to a school-record 28 that surpassed Kentucky great Dan Issel (26).

The West Virginia transfer helped the Wildcats (26-8) return to the NCAA Tournament before collecting numerous individual honors from The Associated Press and others, including the Naismith and Wooden awards as the nation’s top player. Second-seeded Kentucky was stunned 85-79 in overtime by tiny No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in the first round, in which Tshiebwe had 30 points and 16 rebounds.

“For me, it is the best motivation," he said of the bracket-busting loss. Now, I know how things (are) like. I’m never going to want to go through the same thing.”

Tshiebwe, who is from the Congo, said on the broadcast that he prayed and consulted with his mother before deciding last week to return to school. Tshiebwe said it was his dream to be an NBA lottery pick, but draft projections had him going in the second round this summer.

“They want my game to expand a little bit,” Tshiebwe said of input from NBA clubs. “They want me to be able to make one or two 3-pointers, They want me to catch the ball, drive and finish, and get better in dribbling. Those things, I’ve got to improve next year.”

Tshiebwe’s affable personality on the court and accessibility off has made him extremely popular among Kentucky’s fan base as he fulfilled autograph and selfie requests. He spoke often about his faith in interviews, which put him in demand to speak at churches in Lexington and around the state.