Sunday, December 5

Ten great men Kofi Cockburn and Hunter Dickinson are back to show that there is still a place in the game for size.


INDIANAPOLIS – It was almost as challenging to hear Kofi Cockburn speak from behind the small podium on Big Ten media day as it was to keep him from dipping the basketball. He was here Thursday afternoon, dressed much more stylishly than we usually see him, but still as big as ever, speaking quietly but proudly about trying to establish himself as the best college basketball player and achieve the greatest possible success. with Illinois. Fighting Illini.

Shortly after speaking, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson took a seat and spoke about his and his team’s ambitions and the work he has done during the offseason to help make the Wolverines even better than they were a year ago.

This was very much an occasion for 2021, and not just because the Big Ten chose to host this event at Gainbridge Field House rather than a hotel ballroom near O’Hare Airport. Before the Steph Curry Revolution, great men as talented and accomplished as Dickinson and Cockburn not only “tested the waters” and returned to give college basketball another shot. They enthusiastically entered the NBA Draft. They became prominent draft picks. Their teams struggled to carry on without them.

It’s that simple: In another era, before the 3-point shot became the most important offensive weapon in the game, Cockburn and Dickinson wouldn’t be playing in the Big Ten this season.

“I think it’s sad,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said, even though changes in the NBA have given Cockburn another season. “I guess maybe I’m a bit of the old school type. Growing up and seeing Jabbar and Wilt, and then switching to Shaq – the closer you get to the basket, the more chances you have to score. Patrick Ewing, all those guys.

“If you look at this league, the quality of the big men in this league is unmatched. It’s not even close nationally. I don’t know what that means for them in the future; we’ll see. They have changed and yet they remain dominant college players. I am excited about it. I know we are lucky to be able to train him. And I hope there is a place for everyone. “

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In 2001, four of the top 10 selected in the NBA Draft were American-trained big men, and eight of those players were selected in the first round. By 2021, only three American “centers” were chosen, and none fit the low-post prototype of the Chamberlain / Jabbar / O’Neal days. Former USC Trojan Evan Mobley is a dynamic 7-footer known for his lane mobility. Kai Jones of Texas is an even more electric player carrying just 220 pounds at 6-11. The NBA was once concerned about such players being harassed on the court, but now shooters like Curry have stretched defenses so far that there isn’t as much traffic inside.

What separates Cockburn and Dickinson from the other Big Ten greats is that they were each an All-American from Sporting News’ second team in the 2020-21 season. But there are several other talented centers in the league: Maryland’s Qudus Wahab, a transfer from Georgetown; Cliff Omoruyi of Rutgers and the slightly smaller but no less capable EJ Liddell of Ohio State and Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana. Purdue has two exceptional greats, Trevion Williams and 7-4 Zach Edey.

Dickinson is a 7-1,255 pound sophomore. He is a true power forward who scored the vast majority of his points last season very close to goal, more effective than most simply at getting past defenders who challenged him at the rim. He entered the NBA Draft, but announced in early July that he would be retiring and returning to the Wolverines. As a result, in a poll conducted by The Athletic and Columbus Dispatch, UM was favored by a panel of journalists covering the league to win the 2021-22 Big Ten championship.

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“They just told me to keep expanding my game. That’s where the NBA is right now, ”Dickinson told SN. “Just show that you can protect the pick-and-roll, the changes and then finish on my right hand, being able to make more counter moves. If I can apply that to this year’s team, I’m not going to force it. We’re still trying to win a national championship, and whatever that takes away from me is what I’m going to do. “

There is still a place for a mountainous man like Cockburn (7-0, 285 pounds) on an NBA roster, in an NBA lineup. But is there room for Cockburn in particular? The professional teams he spoke to as he navigated the early entry process told him that it would be helpful for him to win some competition as an off-post passer (he only had five assists in 31 games last season) and make midrange jumps. , as well as to defend comfortably when it becomes necessary to change a pick-and-roll.

Mastering these skills would make Cockburn a better basketball player, but there’s a question whether incorporating them into Illini’s approach would make them a better team.

“I think Kofi has an unlimited talent pool,” Underwood told SN. “Are we going to leave him out there and let him shoot 15 triples a night? No, we are not. Let’s not forget that he had 79 dunks, he led the country in that area, he was the number one player in the country in screen shots. There it is efficient. And yet can he go and handle the basketball? Yes. Can you play dribble and short-throw transfers and make passes? Yes.

“We didn’t do that last year simply because of the fact that we didn’t get a chance to work on it in the offseason. It is capable of those things. And that will help us. He expands his purse, so to speak, and helps us expand our purse. “

Dickinson was a revelation as a Michigan freshman. He wasn’t even ranked in the top 40 prospects in the recruiting class of 2020, but he scored in double figures in his first 11 college games, including 26 when he returned to Maryland, where he played in high school for DeMatha Catholic.

He finished his season with averages of 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds and finished just shy of a .600 field goal percentage. He tried only four triples and missed all of them.

“It didn’t surprise me that he had early success as a freshman. I saw him in high school and how he was able to make plays by getting doubled up on the post and making the correct pass on time, on target, seeing the open man and not trying to make more, just wanting to make a winning play. Michigan coach Juwan Howard told SN.

“How will that translate and the transition to the NBA? I’m not here to talk about the NBA right now because he hasn’t gotten that far. He has a second year that he is waiting for.

“It is a pleasure to train. And I enjoy having it in my corner. “




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