CHAMPAIGN — Illinois’ 2021 recruiting class has been just Luke Goode for nearly a year. The four-star guard out of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Homestead committed to the Illini on April 17, 2020, and signed seven months later.
Now he’s got some company.
Illinois added to its class Monday and did so with another four-star wing in Ramses “RJ” Melendez. The 6-foot-7, 195-pound small forward, who chose the Illini from a group of nearly 20 offers including the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Virginia Tech and LSU, bumps their class from 11th to ninth in the Big Ten and 82nd to 46th nationally with more recruiting work still to do this spring and summer.
Melendez, who is originally from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, plays at Central Pointe Christian Academy in Kissimmee, Fla. Melendez helped the White Tigers win the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association state championship last March. He put up 20 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the 68-63 title game victory against West Oaks Academy to earn MVP honors andaveraged 18.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 blocks for the season while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.
Melendez has been just as good this season at Central Pointe Christian. The White Tigers are 25-5 overall and unbeaten at 11-0 in the SIAA. Melendez has had a number of standout individual performances, too. He put up 34 points, seven rebounds and three steals earlier this month in a win against DME Academy (Fla.), and had 29 points, eight rebounds and two steals in early January in a win against PHH Prep Fire (Ariz.).
The addition of Melendez will give Illinois three Puerto Rico natives on the roster for the 2021-22 season along with current freshmen Andre Curbelo and Edgar Padilla Jr. Melendez teamed up with Padilla for Team Puerto Rico at the 2019 FIBA U17 Centrobasket Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in a runner-up finish for the host nation.
Melendez’s commitment technically closes Illinois out for available 2021-22 scholarships. That does not take into consideration, however, both junior guard Ayo Dosumu and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn again testing the NBA draft waters and potentially leaving this time around. The Illini remain in the mix for Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett, a former five-star guard in the 2020 class.