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Starting Five: Big visits, Jayhawks, Illini, more

RANKINGS: 2019 Rivals150 | 2020 Rivals150 | 2019 Team Rankings


Where was five-star Trendon Watford over the weekend? What about the newest member of the Illini and can Christian Braun produce at Kansas? That and more as National Analyst Eric Bossi returns with his weekly Starting Five.

MORE: Rivals Roundtable


Trendon Watford
Trendon Watford (Nick Lucero/

After a weekend official visit to Alabama, available five-star forward Trendon Watford has now visited three of his four finalists.

During the fall, Watford saw LSU and Memphis, and that leaves just Indiana with which to set an official visit. Of course, Indiana is a place that Watford knows very well since his older brother Christian Watford played there.

Surely a win against SEC power Kentucky didn't hurt Alabama and I do think the Tide has gone from a school being listed as a local courtesy to one that has a legitimate chance at landing Watford. The general consensus has been that Memphis will be the team to beat and I don't dispute that the Tigers are deep in it. But, I'm not sure if I'm ready to call them a leader.

I think there's time for this one to shake out a bit, but if I had to pick one school of the four that I don't think is getting enough talk and that could quietly be in better shape than people think it would be LSU. Things will continue to shake out, but I say keep an eye on Will Wade's group.


Kofi Cockburn
Kofi Cockburn (Nick Lucero/

On Sunday, Illinois landed a commitment that it fought extremely hard for when the Illini landed big man Kofi Cockburn. My coworker Corey Evans detailed the commitment on Sunday, but I wanted to add some of my own thoughts.

First of all, I don't think that most expected Brad Underwood and the Illini to experience a season without some bumps and bruises. But, I don't think it was unreasonable to expect better than a 4-11 (0-4 in the Big Ten) start to the season. Nevertheless, here we are and with the NCAA Tournament looking pretty unlikely, a recruiting win is always a nice diversion.

After landing Ayo Dosunmu in 2018, to back him up with Cockburn this year helps to erase the sting of some misses (E.J. Liddell probably tops the list) and shows that Underwood and his staff do indeed have some recruiting pop. That's good, because it's clear that the talent still needs more upgrading.

So, what kind of player is Cockburn? When he's locked in, he can be a beast. He's clearly big and strong and he's surprisingly nimble around the rim. When his motor is running, he's a physical force that simply can't be dealt with on the high school level. But, he's a throwback to the more traditional, back to the basket, space-eating five-man.

That old school five-man does present somewhat of a new age problem. Illinois wants to run ball screens, attack, play athletic and pressure passing lanes. Cockburn can certainly do some of that, but he's also going to need some time to set up in the post. No matter how well he moves, the Illini may have to get creative with him defensively when matched up with small ball teams and styles. Still, the talent is worth figuring out how to deal with any changes in style that may be necessary once he arrives on campus.


Christian Braun
Christian Braun (Darryl Woods, 810 Varsity)

When four-star small forward Christian Braun earned an offer from and committed to Kansas after a big summer with MoKan Elite, there were some skeptics. It's only natural. Braun wasn't a big-name recruit and had just really started to take off so some Kansas fans, locals and observers nationally wondered if he would be able to be a legitimate contributor for the Jayhawks.

Personally, I didn't much question if Braun would be a contributor and I'm more sure than ever he will end up playing valuable minutes in Lawrence. I watched Braun on Saturday night at the 810 Varsity Shootout in Kansas City and the senior at Overland Park (Kans.) Blue Valley Northwest put on one of the best all-around displays I've seen during this high school season, going for 37 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Braun actually served as his team's point guard and while he won't be asked to do that in college, his ability to make plays for others with the pass and create shots off the dribble will serve him well. He shoots a pretty jump shot with range, he's been hitting the weights and he's plenty athletic. Defense at Kansas' level will be an adjustment and he'll have to fight for his time. But, I think Braun is going to find it and it wouldn't surprise me if he turned into a guy that starts for a few years.


Mark Mitchell
Mark Mitchell (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

I watched another local over the weekend while I was off the road, Mark Mitchell.

A freshman wing at Roeland Park (Kans.) Bishop Miege who is pushing 6-foot-7, Mitchell is one of the more hyped freshmen I've seen come through the Kansas City area. From what I saw, he looks to be on his way to delivering and was worthy of all the talk he got prior to the season.

Don't get me wrong, his Friday night game wasn't a good one for making any real evaluation. Mitchell and his teammates were up 42-11 at half and it was a game he could dominate physically without much effort. But, I did see elite body control, a great first step and a nice overall feel for the game.

This is a kid that looks like he has a chance to get recruited at the very highest level of college basketball and he could be the next big-name player out of the Kansas City area. He's just a few games into his freshman year but I'm a little surprised that Mitchell hasn't yet received any scholarship offers. I would bet that isn't the case for much longer.


Ziaire Williams
Ziaire Williams (Nick Lucero/

When we update our class of 2020 rankings, I think we need to talk seriously about moving Ziaire Williams of Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame into the top 10. He's not exactly ranked low at No. 14, but after seeing him this winter I think Williams needs a bump. He is a bit of a mix between Duke's Cameron Reddish (the ball handling, slashing one; not the guy going through a rough patch with his jumper) and Stanford's super talented sophomore wing Kezie Okpala.

Speaking of Stanford, the Cardinal get first crack at hosting Williams for an official visit this weekend. They have worked Williams extremely hard and have put themselves in tremendous early position. I don't know if they can close Williams out this early, but they can certainly enhance their position.

A shot maker with size who creates comfortably off the dribble, Williams is catching more fire with college coaches. North Carolina is turning it up, Arizona is pushing, Oregon was in last week and UCLA's new coach will need to make him a priority (assuming he is still available). He's a guy that the best of the best should want.