Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His e-mail is [email protected], and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

Invite to “Excellent Morning, Illini Nation,” your everyday dose of college basketball news from Illini beat author and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll provide insights every early morning on Brad Underwood’s group:

The Class of 2021 got a position-by-position breakdown from ESPN, which ranked the leading 50 players at each area. We finish up the “Great Early Morning, Illini Nation” series with the centers. Who stood out? What’s Illinois’ recruiting outlook?

A couple of thoughts …

— Center is maybe the most essential position when it concerns Illinois’ 2021 recruiting efforts. It’s fairly simple. Should Kofi Cockburn return for the 2020-21 season (it’s still not 100 percent particular one method or the other), he’s not likely to stay for a 3rd season. That would develop a 7-foot, 290-pound hole to complete the Illini lineup and leave Jermaine Hamlin and Brandon Lieb as the only centers on the roster.

— That said, Illinois has some choices on the center front in the Class of 2021, including deals to several prospects in ESPN’s top 50. That group is No. 4 Franck Kepnang, No. 11 Mac Etienne, No. 19 Sam Ayomide and No. 44 Deiman Reyes. None are Cockburn-esque, but who is?

Both Kepnang and Etienne have been rumored as reclassification prospects, but the Kepnang has actually come out and stated he’ll stick in the 2021 class. Etienne’s future is still a bit unclear, but he did announce a move from Suffield Academy (Conn.) to Brewster Academy (N.H.).

— Thirteen of ESPN’s top 50 centers have actually currently dedicated, and five Big 10 teams already have their huge guy of the future with dedications from No. 12 Julian Reese (Maryland), No. 21 Logan Duncomb (Indiana), No. 22 Chris Hodges (Wisconsin), No. 23 Treyton Thompson (Minnesota) and No. 30 TaQuan Woodley (Penn State).

— The most interesting center out of the ESPN 50 is No. 16 Ryan Mutombo. Yes, that Mutombo. The 6-11, 215-pound big guy out of The Lovett School in Atlanta, Ga., is the boy of shot-blocking, finger-wagging former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo.

— Another name that popped was Texas big male Reuben Fatheree. The 6-8, 305-pound center is also a four-star offensive tackle ranked just outside the leading 100. He’s devoted to Texas A&M and will play football.