Cockburn leaning on Dosunmu’s advice during draft process originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago:
Kofi Cockburn talks to his former college teammate Ayo Dosunmu every day.
And Cockburn – who, despite wrapping his third season at Illinois as Dosunmu embarked on his rookie campaign in the NBA, is four months older than the Chicago Bulls guard – says he oftentimes plays the big brother role.
“Whenever he (Dosunmu) has a game, I call him before and give him a pep talk, get into his dog mentality,” Cockburn said with a wide grin after scrimmaging with other prospects at the 2022 NBA Draft Combine. “Sometimes he needs that from me.”
But with Cockburn chasing his NBA dreams in Chicago for the week, Dosunmu has assumed the role of mentor.
“I spoke to him yesterday. I spoke to him the day before,” Cockburn said of Dosunmu. “It’s just him telling me things that I should show scouts, the way I should carry myself – things that I know already, but just him being that brother to me and letting me know, ‘Yo, this is what they’re looking for .Make sure you’re doing this. ‘”
Added Cockburn of the advice Dosunmu imparted: “Show my athleticism. Show my speed and my vertical. He said scouts look at that a lot. He just said show my personality. He knows what kind of guy I am. He knows I’m a leader, and he knows I ‘ m vocal. So he just said ‘Show that stuff because that carries over just as much as anything else.’ “
Dosunmu knows the combine process well, having been invited in 2020 before returning to school for his junior year, then participating in 2021 before officially entering that draft. He was selected 38th overall by the Bulls in 2021 – far lower than expected. But he made the most of the opportunity, ascending from a second-round pick expected by many to spend time in the G League to the NBA’s 2022 All-Rookie second team, a testament to his integral role to a 46-win team.
Cockburn is hoping to follow a similar trajectory. Most prognosticators peg the 7-foot, 293-pound big man to either be selected in the second round or fall out of the draft altogether. But he is confident he’ll find his niche at the next level.
“My motor and my ability to adapt,” Cockburn said when asked what he hopes to showcase at the combine. “A lot of people doubt my ability to adapt to the NBA. Just to show that you can put me in whatever situation. I’ll definitely contribute, whether that’s rebounding, giving you extra possessions, setting good screens, rolling, stuff that I do at a high level. Just showing that I can do that at the next level. “
Cockburn averaged 20.9 points and 10.6 rebounds as a junior – and certainly stocked his trophy cabinet over three seasons in Champaign. But he’s aware that, at the professional level, his responsibilities will be different.
“Like, I’m on the court today (scrimmaging with other prospects), and I figure, like, if these guys are gonna shoot I’m gonna rebound,” he said, ear-to-ear grin again on display. “Going into the league, I’ll be a rookie, no team is gonna put me as their star player. I’m gonna have to find my role, playing defense, talking, bringing positive energy and rebounding.”
Cockburn idolized Shaquille O’Neal while growing up in Jamaica, fitting for his monstrous frame and bruising play style. But he also poured effusive praise on the new era of big men in the league, from the slick-passing Nikola Jokić to the sharp-shooting Karl-Anthony Towns.
Indeed, centers are nowadays tasked to play with more versatility – at both ends of the court – than at any other time in the league’s history. And Cockburn boasts a throwback style. He attempted just one 3-pointer across his three collegiate seasons (and missed it). He’s not one to lead a fastbreak or whip crosscourt passes, instead making his offensive impact with crushing screens, offensive rebounds and bullying interior play.
That archetype, he says, still has a place in the league.
“A lot of people tell me, you know, back then, if it was the 1990’s, I’d be drafted top 10,” Cockburn said with a laugh. “The game has changed, but it hasn’t changed that much. I think that big man role has definitely changed to the point where there’s more ball screens, there’s more perimeter play. But I think big men, there’s still big men that need “rebound, that needs to play defense, that needs to be vocal, put their guards in better positions to score or whatever the case may be.”
From whatever avenue his first opportunity comes from, Cockburn, who prides himself on his positive personality and coachable tendencies, will be ready – smile on face and ball in hand.
As for that opportunity coming with the Bulls?
“Not necessarily,” he said with a chuckle when asked if Dosunmu has put in a good word for him with the front office. “I think he will. He would be happy to know that he’s playing with me in the future if that’s a possibility. But not necessarily.”
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