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Former Illinois Basketball Wing Dominates in Preseason Debut



Former Illinois Basketball Wing Dominates in Preseason Debut
Illinois' RJ Melendez drives to the hoop during the NCAA men's basketball tournament first round match-up between Illinois and Arkansas, on Thursday, March 16, 2023, at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa. 0316 Illinos Arkansas 005 Arw

Former Illinois Basketball Wing Dominates in Preseason Debut

One of the forgotten transfers of the 2023 offseason from Illinois Basketball was RJ Melendez. Melendez was a rising junior who had shown flashes of brilliance. He had an athleticism and length that Illinois has not seen outside of Terrence Shannon Jr. Melendez played in spot minutes as a true freshman and looked poised to be a breakout star as a sophomore. Unfortunately, that never materialized. Melendez struggled with confidence and a variety of nagging injuries throughout the year.

He also did not seem to thrive under Brad Underwood’s intense coaching style, much like many of his counterparts who transferred. RJ chose to transfer to the Georgia Bulldogs and made his preseason debut. Melendez had an impressive showing. He put up 21 points and 8 rebounds in a preseason win against Eastern Kentucky.

A Fresh Start.

RJ Melendez will probably thrive at Georgia. The fresh start will allow him to have the ball in his hands more often as opposed to his situation at Illinois. Melendez was relegated to playing off the ball and having to catch-and-shoot since he had to play off Terrence Shannon Jr. Georgia is a rebuilding program and could use his combination of length and athleticism. His outside stroke will need to show improvement, however it was rather solid during his freshman campaign.

RJ was one of three end of season scholarship transfers. Jayden Epps decided to play for Georgetown. Additionally, Brandon Lieb decided to take his talented to Illinois State.

Both sides benefitted.

To be honest, Illinois also benefitted from the transfer. Quincy Guerrier, Marcus Domask and Justin Harmon all seemed to be better fits with this roster. There is a small sample size, however, Guerrier, Domask and Harmon all closed out the exhibition game against Kansas. All three had moments that helped Illinois assert their control of the game. Guerrier was outstanding with his poise and ability to attack the basket, however was a great leader.

Quincy Guerrier frequently led on-court huddles and was seen with his arm around Amani Hansberry after a rough stretch. A Guerrier for Melendez trade seems like it worked out for all parties. Illinois will now look towards their home opener against Eastern Illinois.

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Alex is the Owner of, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is also the lead content creator and lead editor of all articles on Armchair Illini. He has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS Sports and more.