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Illinois Basketball Player Preview: RJ Melendez

The freshman brings a lot of skills to the Illini.


Ramses “RJ” Melendez rounds out the freshman additions to Luke Goode and Brandin Podziemski. RJ is the highest-rated recruit of the class (according to 247) who is able to spot up for threes, take it to the rim and move really well off the ball.

Melendez comes from Central Pointe Christian in Kissimmee, Florida, but dons the Puerto Rican flag. Melendez is the third member of a potential all-Puerto Rican backcourt for the Illini with Utah transfer guard Alfonso Plummer and superstar sophomore Andre Curbelo.

An all-Spanish-speaking backcourt will wreak havoc for the opposing team.

Not my words (turn up your volume):

What Illinois Is Getting

From what I can tell from game film, Melendez is a great spot-up shooter, often from the extended free-throw line down to the baseline. This is great because it gives a safety valve for Curbelo as he slashes to the rim and Kofi passing out from the post. RJ is also great off the ball, often confusing players as he makes his way to the basket. The kid can also throw down and get up to the rim. Breakaways with Melendez have a chance to be show-stoppers as he adjusts to the college game.

On the defense side, Melendez is a lanky, aggressive defender, with an eye for the ball. He can force steals and block shots, but the aggressiveness is costly. At the college level, everybody is good and Melendez would need to have patience and learn how to keep the player in front of him. RJ also stands at 6-foot-7 and 185 pounds and could get shoved around in the Big Ten.

But that is something Body by Fletch can fix.

What to Expect

At this point, Melendez complements a lot of the skills the star players have on this roster. Belo and Kofi love to play around the rim, and RJ is a safety valve, spot-up shooter. Trent plays spots up above the free-throw line and RJ spots up below. Even with three-point specialist Plummer on the court, RJ can cut to the basket or spot up on the opposite side.

As a freshman, he will be weaker, slower, and less confident than the COVID super seniors on the court in front of him. RJ will have to adjust to being a role player as he learns the college game. In front of him, Austin Hutcherson should be the starter with Da’Monte Williams coming off the bench in the small forward position.

Minutes will be hard to come by, but when he is on the court, he should be able to effectively manage his game.