Amid the chaos that is the college basketball transfer portal and the seemingly daily point guard dialogue, the Illini’s recruiting efforts haven’t exactly been front of mind of late.
Coming off the summer’s biggest AAU weekend that included Nike’s Peach Jam and Under Armour’s UA Next Finals, it’s time we look at some of the guys Brad Underwood and Co. are trying to bring to Champaign.
Currently, Illinois has just one commit locked down for the future — 2024 4-star big man Morez Johnson.
And he’s a certified stud.
Johnson was an absolute star at Peach Jam this past weekend, averaging 17 points and leading the entire tournament in rebounding at 13.2 per game. He took home 1st Team All-Peach Jam honors after a 5-1 run playing for one of the premier AAU programs in Illinois — MeanStreets.
Morez Johnson was the leading rebounder at the Peach Jam with over 13/game.— Adam Finkelstein (@AdamFinkelstein) July 12, 2023
He’s rugged, powerful, able to score with footwork & both hands in the lane. He’s also a versatile & engaged defender.
Scouting the EYBL’s best 2024 bigs: https://t.co/QVlQGVs2JC pic.twitter.com/pVW2MoU1D0
A true physical specimen, Johnson stands at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds and appears to be one of the top big men in the 2024 class and a potential crown jewel for the Illini coaching staff.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Johnson reach 5-star status and garner consideration for the McDonalds All-American Game next spring as he heads into his senior season at Thornton Township, where he transferred after spending his first three years at St. Rita.
So, who could join Morez in Champaign in the upcoming years?
Here’s a look at some guys the Illini have their eye on.
With Morez Johnson in the fold, Illinois will be looking to find an ideal fit to pair next to him in the frontcourt.
2024 Yorkville PF Jason Jakstys might be that guy.
At 6-foot-10, Jakstys is a stretch big that can step out and shoot it and has really started to fly onto the radar this summer. He provides the versatility and perimeter ability necessary to potentially pair with the likes of Johnson, Amani Hansberry, and Dain Dainja.
Illinois became Jakstys’ first high major offer in June and seems believe he can be a Big Ten contributor as he continues to develop.
247 Sports’ Eric Bossi listed Jakstys as one of the biggest stock risers from last weekend’s live period, where he played for Breakaway Basketball in the Under Armour UA Next Finals:
Jason Jakstys looked like a legitimate high major big man prospect.
Jakstys can step out to hit three-point shots, he does a nice job of rotating on defense to block or alter shots, he sprints from rim-to-rim, is a lob threat and shows a lot of signs of being able to score at the next level.
Ranking: 4-Star; #76 National (247 Sports)
Another potential 2024 target the Illini have showed some interest in is Mikey Lewis.
The 6-foot-3 combo guard is a scoring machine, ranking in the top-15 in scoring on the entire EYBL circuit this summer and showing out with a 30-point performance at Peach Jam playing for the Oakland Soldiers.
Lewis is a true three-level scorer who could provide the dynamic offensive replacement to Terrence Shannon Jr. in the Illini backcourt after he moves on to the NBA.
This recruitment is a stiff one however, as Lewis currently holds offers from Syracuse, Providence, Ole Miss, LSU, and just Tuesday, Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks entered their name into the mix.
Ranking: 4-Star; #51 National (247 Sports)
With questions still looming over the future of the point guard position, Illinois has appeared to make 2025 combo guard Jeremiah Fears a priority.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Joliet is the younger brother of Jeremy Fears, who you may remember as an Illini priority target in the 2023 class before ultimately ending up at Michigan State.
The younger Fears brother showed off his dynamic offensive game at Peach Jam over the weekend, putting up 21- and 16-point performances while playing for St. Louis-based Brad Beal Elite.
Fears is a high-level playmaker, having shown the ability to set the table for teammates and be the true distributor Illinois has lacked since Ayo Dosunmu left the fold.
Fears currently has a very competitive offer list that includes Arizona, Gonzaga, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida State, and others, but the Illini staff will hope to use their prior family relationship and home state pitch to their advantage.
I’m sure that last name sounds quite familiar.
2025 guard Phoenix Gill, indeed the son of Illini legend and Flyin’ Illini star Kendall Gill, has steadily improved during his first two seasons at St. Ignatius in Chicago.
Currently standing at 6-foot-2, Gill exhibits some of the bounce and athleticism of his father while showcasing the ability to light up the scoreboard at times.
Unlike most high-level high school prospects, Gill has chosen not to participate in AAU, so we haven’t seen him in action much this summer. He did erupt for 35 points at the Riverside Brookfield Summer Shootout back in June.
Illinois has made its interest in Gill clear and will hope to add a legacy recruit to its future backcourt plans.