RJ Melendez Becomes Latest Illini Addition to Transfer Portal 

RJ Melendez, a 6-foot-7 wing who played 21.6 minutes per game and 18 starts (including seven of the last eight games) last season, averaged six points per game.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer

April 3, 2023

(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The University of Illinois tenure of RJ Melendez has likely ended after two seasons.

The 20-year-old announced Monday he’s entered the transfer portal with immediate playing status at his next school and will two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Melendez, a 6-foot-7 wing who played 21.6 minutes per game and 18 starts (including seven of the last eight games) last season averaged six points per game. The former four-star prospect from Central Pointe Christian (Fla.) Academy via Arecibo, Puerto Rico struggled with his shooting throughout the 2022-23 season as he converted on only 24 of 91 attempts from beyond the three-point arc but Illinois head coach Brad Underwood continued to give Melendez minutes due to his development on the defensive end of the floor.

In 25 minutes of action in the NCAA Tournament first round loss to Arkansas in Des Moines, Iowa, Melendez finished with 10 points on just eight shot attempts but also six rebounds and three assists along with one steal. The finale of the 2022-23 season was arguably Melendez’s most offensively active outing as during a 72-second period in which the sophomore guard connected on a pair of three-pointers and a transition dunk.

“He probably went through one of the most interesting seasons, and to see him finish it off today was unbelievable,” Underwood said following the NCAA exit. “He showed his ability and what he's going to be in the future.”

Immediately after the loss, Melendez talked in the future tense about his role in the Illini program that has grown from a freshman who didn’t know why Underwood was pulling him off the floor to a sophomore with self-reflection on a disappointing 20-13 campaign in the season year.

“For future seasons we just gotta not make these mistakes again, because it cost us last year as well, simple mistakes - a lot of turnovers in the first half,” Melendez said. “We can't let that happen, and we just gotta make sure we always stay connected as a team.”

Melendez didn’t sound on that afternoon in Iowa like a player immediately looking to leave the Illini program for a new opportunity to erase the memories of a frustrating 2022-23 season. However, his decision marks the third player on the 2022-23 Illini roster to enter the transfer portal joining Jayden Epps and Brandon Lieb.

“We’ve got to never let go of our emotions (and) just keep 'em in the game and make sure we listen to (Underwood) and everything he says, because he has a purpose for every single play, and we didn't run the first three plays like he says,” Melendez said. “It's our fault, kind of, because he's calling them and we're not listening to him or we're not doing them. So, we gotta be better, listen better, and be mentally tougher.”

Melendez was ranked No. 56 by ESPN, No. 93 by 247Sports Composite and No. 117 by Rivals after averaging 24.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 steals and 2.3 blocks as a senior, leading Central Pointe (CPCA) to a 33-7 record.

With Coleman Hawkins investigating the NBA Draft process and Terrance Shannon potentially doing the same thing, Illinois could begin the 2022-23 season with only Sencire Harris (seven starts) and Dain Dainja (21 starts) with starting experience from last year.

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