What Michigan basketball and head coach Juwan Howard can learn from Kofi Cockburn entering the transfer portal.
When Illinois center Kofi Cockburn entered his name into the NBA draft, it was expected that he would remain in the draft. He was a second-team All-American in his second season at Illinois and put up monster stats of 17.7 pts, 9.5 rebounds, and shot 65% from the floor.
He is a 7-foot, 285-pound behemoth that is the classic back-to-the basket, bully-ball throwback center. There was not really much more Kofi Cockburn could do to improve his stock and be a first-round draft pick.
Some of his weaknesses include no mid-range jump shot, consistent struggles at the free-throw line, getting abused switching onto smaller, quicker guards, and foul trouble. Kofi is already 23 so why not bet on himself and stay in the draft?
Then NIL came out. When Kofi decided to return to the college ranks as an already-23-year-old, it was definitely an abnormal decision. But what followed was much much stranger. He entered his name into the transfer portal.
Why the heck would an All-American not want to go back to the same school that he was so dominant at last season? He literally led Illinois to a Big Ten tournament championship, a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and they had the most wins in the Big Ten last season. It’s mind-boggling and has to be one of the most interesting decisions in a long time.
One of Kofi’s transfer options is the Kentucky Wildcats. What does Kentucky have that Illinois doesn’t?
Unfortunately for Illinois, they lost two of their most established recruiters to Kentucky in Orlando Antigua and Ron Coleman, and although they filled in one of those spots, still have one assistant coaching vacancy.
Antigua and Coleman were some of the best recruiters in the country, lending a big hand in getting Ayo Dosumnu and Kofi Cockburn to come to Illinois.
It can’t be a coincidence that Kofi is looking to possibly join the same team that has two assistant coaches that he developed strong relationships with while at Illinois.
Kentucky also doesn’t really have a center of Kofi’s caliber right now, and Kofi probably sees the opportunity to be a starting center on their roster. Lastly, with how NIL just opened up, maybe Kofi might want to take advantage of NIL.
What Michigan and Juwan can learn from this
All of this should serve as a warning sign to Juwan Howard. He is a great coach. He treats everyone in the Michigan basketball world like family. He needs to keep acting like this.
If Michigan keeps having sustained success, eventually other teams will start calling some of Juwan’s assistants (if other coaches or organizations haven’t started already) and offering the assistants like Howard Eisley, Saddy Washington, and Phil Martelli higher-paying or more involved positions elsewhere. He needs to try to hold onto these assistants as long as possible.
If there’s one thing that can slow down a program’s momentum, it’s too much turnover at once.
As is shown with Illinois’s situation, relationships really matter in the world of college sports. Kofi has a great relationship with his former assistant coaches and it shows because he might transfer to a school not named Illinois and follow his assistants.
Also, Howard is one of the best adapters in the college game, but he needs to really try to incorporate NIL into his recruiting strategies to the best of his ability and within the confines of U-Ms rules. He needs to layout resources or help direct these players to resources for these elite college players to be able to make a name for themselves.
In regards to players already on Michigan basketball’s roster, it’s even more important that Juwan make this a priority. He and the assistant coaches and whoever handles the NIL needs to make sure the players that want to do NIL can do it. It’s just an added checklist item that Juwan can use to recruit and keep his players happy. We didn’t expect to see Kofi Cockburn, a bonafide All-American, potentially transfer this season, but it might happen.
Now, Michigan basketball’s following and fan base is extremely large as well, and probably even surpasses Kentucky’s (maybe not as much in basketball but if you add up every sport and academics, etc) then they do, so this may not ever be a problem, but it should always still serve as a warning and a reminder to Juwan Howard in the back of his mind about consistency and coaching turnover.
Just imagine if Hunter Dickinson did something like this?! U-M is slated to play Kentucky in London this season. How ironic would it be if Cockburn transferred to a program that U-M had on their non-conference schedule this season?
Now that Kofi Cockburn has done this, we may start to see this become a new trend in college basketball. With more emphasis on recruiting and developing relationships, and NLI really popping, this will become even more important than ever.
I caution those that think this can’t ever happen to U-M to never say never. There are many reasons why players transfer out of programs, so limiting the reasons why (to the best of U-Ms ability) a star player would want to transfer out is key.