URBANA, Ill. (BVM) — University of Illinois’ basketball center Kofi Cockburn started off his basketball career when he was 11 years old, after his major growth spurt that summer. His older brother brought him into the game after noticing his favorable height for basketball and Cockburn fell in love with not only the adrenaline basketball gave him, but he loved playing with his older brother.
Cockburn first came to America in September 2015, where he was brought into a completely different environment.
“It was a whole different vibe,” Cockburn described Jamaica. “I came from a country where everybody knew everybody, you know, and it was a whole different environment…and then I came here.”
His adjustment to this new climate was difficult at first because he was not used to the diversity, feeling and climate of this nation. Eventually, his transition did get smoother with the help of his mom, who was already in America prior to his migration to the U.S. When Cockburn did get well adjusted, he found it much easier to cope in the country. He took many of his experiences from Jamaica and applied them to his exposure and life in America.
Cockburn, compared to his teammates when he was younger, did not come from a rich background, but instead he grew up more with community and culture. Cockburn saw many children in Jamaica get drawn into the world of drugs, but he never engaged in it. In fact, his dad was very hard on him and his brothers when he was younger to be disciplined wherever they see themselves. Growing up made Cockburn realize the lessons his father taught him and how much he truly inspired him to be driven. His dad worked hard to be respected in his community and provide for Cockburn and his brothers, but his dad never allowed them to slip.
Cockburn’s mom was in the U.S. before Kofi came and when he came in 2015, he noticed how his mom would consistently work hard to put food on the table and fight through anything to make sure he was okay. His mom and his dad were role models that he saw as inspiration to stay focused. Witnessing his mom’s determination and remembering his father’s wise lessons became the root for why we see such a determined player today.
When asked how he stays focused, despite the many distractions a university presents, Cockburn said, “I don’t let that bother me…right now when people talk bad about me or I see anything or hear anything, I just push it to the side, I don’t let it affect my energy… it’s the best thing to do.”
He said that he never feels that he will do anything he does not want to do, especially since in Jamaica kids were drinking and smoking at a much younger age. So with him coming to the university, Cockburn prides himself in not indulging in the irrelevant things, and focusing on what matters: his career.
Despite Cockburn’s many experiences where people have attempted to weigh him down, he never indulges. He discussed an experience when someone spoke to his worth saying, “you’re never going to amount to nothing.” While this was one of the first times Cockburn was provoked with anger and disrespect, he took what that person said and used it as ammunition to get better at his game, and prove him wrong.
Cockburn has faced many hardships growing up, but he did not see any of these obstacles as a burden, but even more reason to rise up against his challenges. His family, his experiences, and his culture made him the man he is today. He eventually aspires to be in the NBA, but he knows that before he gets there, he wants to use the training from his coach.
“Better ball handling, my ability to read the floor…and definitely 3-point shooting,” Cockburn said he’s focused on enhancing.
Cockburn feels like he has no weaknesses because weaknesses are defined as something someone can’t do, but he is always open to improve and take what his coach and teammates have to teach him on his way to his next level at the NBA. As one of the top players in the nation right now, Cockburn has certainly shown that he can improve despite the obstacles he faces.