CHAMPAIGN – For most of this college basketball offseason, it didn’t appear that Illinois’ top center would be returning to the school for his junior season.

Kofi Cockburn first declared for the NBA Draft after an excellent 2020-2021 season, then after withdrawing put himself into the transfer portal.

But after all of that, the center has found his way back to Champaign.

Late Friday afternoon, Cockburn announced on his Twitter account that he was returning to the Illini for his junior season in 2021-2022. He chose to come back to the Illini after also considering Kentucky and Florida State, which Cockburn declared as his final three choices.

“We are beyond thrilled to have Kofi remain a Fighting Illini and add the nation’s top player to our lineup,” said head coach Brad Underwood in a statement released through the school. “Kofi has been thorough during every step of his process, from exploring professional opportunities to making the decision to return to college. He has played a major role in our success the last two years and has more individual and team goals to achieve this season.

“Kofi will have the chance to expand new aspects of his game while continuing to be a dominant inside force on both ends of the floor.”

The Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2020 and consensus second-team All-American in 2021 has been one of the best centers in recent Illini history. In two seasons at Illinois, he’s averaged 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while also blocking 84 shots.

Cockburn helped the Illini to their most successful season in 16 years in 2020-2021 as he scored 17.7 points and grabbed 9.5 rebounds a contest. Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament title and earned their first No. 1 seed since 2005.