Morez Johnson committed to Illinois earlier in his career than any player since Jereme Richmond.
We all remember how that situation went.
On National Signing Day, two years after his verbal pledge, the Chicago big man inked his National Letter of Intent to study and score at the University of Illinois.
Do you remember when Johnson’s former St. Rita teammate James Brown was considered the “biggest get” in the state? That seems like such a long time ago.
Morez emerged from his time at Chicago St. Rita and the EYBL AAU circuit as one of the most dominant rebounders in the country. His evolving physicality and aggressiveness will serve him well in a frontcourt rotation with Amani Hansberry and Dain Dainja (if all goes well).
Like Ty Rodgers, Johnson will be playing his senior year at Harvey Thornton in Chicago’s South Suburbs. There, he will play for an intense, accomplished coach who has tremendous relationships within the Illini basketball program.
Speaking of whom, Tim Anderson, take a bow. This one is for you. As the lead recruiter for the Meanstreets product, Anderson helped keep the relationship strong for two years.
Having a top-35 national prospect sign with the Illini is a thankfully familiar feeling for long-term fans. But understand, Morez is rated higher than Andre Curbelo, Adam Miller, or Kofi Cockburn. Besides Skyy Clark, no Illini since Ayo outranked Johnson. This signing is a big deal.
Morez Johnson is the kind of player that the “blue blood” programs always have. Programs like Kansas, North Carolina, and Michigan seem to always find ways to find 6-foot-9 springy, raw, rim-running, athletic competitors. They turn the clay into the form of a polished NBA prospect.
Morez never publicly wavered. Iowa, Texas, and Ohio State represent just a few of the big-time programs that reportedly pursued Johnson even after his commitment. And his signature is a testament to the commitment he expressed when he made his initial announcement in 2021.
Look, Morez Johnson may not play in Champaign for four years. If all goes well, he’ll be cashing professional checks sooner rather than later. His ability to be a game-changer in the paint could serve as the foundation for that elusive tournament run the fanbase craves.
The potential for a 2024 lineup built around Morez Johnson and Ty Rodgers is perfect for the grind of Big Ten play. While the transfer machinations in both directions have yet to be determined, adding even more veteran shooting and playmaking could free up Tai Streets’ two big dogs to strike down the competition with sheer mendacity. Surrounding those two with Hansberry/Dainja, Luke Goode, and either a guard from the portal or Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn gives the Illini experience, size, length, defense, intensity, and hopefully good decision-making.
For this potential to be realized, a lot of things have to fall into place. And no, these things don’t usually occur neatly. But Morez Johnson’s signature on his NLI is a huge step in that direction.