RJ Melendez enters transfer portal after 2 seasons with Illinois


Sidney Malone

Sophomore RJ Melendez throws the ball during the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 17. Melendez will become the fourth player to enter the transfer portal in recent weeks.

By James Kim, Sports Editor

Sophomore guard RJ Melendez will become the fourth Illini to enter the transfer portal in recent weeks, according to 247Sports. The Puerto Rico native appeared in 32 games for Illinois during the 2022-23 season, earning a start in 17 of those games.

Melendez entered the 2022-23 season with high expectations following an impressive freshman season the year prior. The guard served as a pivotal piece off the bench for the Illini and provided a spark late in the 2021-22 campaign. Appearing in 22 games during his first year of collegiate basketball, Melendez averaged 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.7 assists in limited game time. With all five starters from the 2022 Big Ten title-winning team departing, Melendez was primed to take a prominent starting role and feature as one of the Illini’s most dangerous players heading into 2022-23. However, things didn’t pan out the way fans had hoped.

Melendez faced severe shooting slumps during his sophomore season and lost his starting job halfway through the schedule. While the sophomore guard wasn’t the most consistent scorer in the first half of the season, he was able to string together a few double-digit performances including a career-high 17 points against Lindenwood on November 25.

However, upon entering 2023, Melendez was unable to find his footing, often finishing games with only a few points to his name. The inconsistent scoring kept the Puerto Rico native out of head coach Brad Underwood’s starting five until late February, as team injuries allowed Melendez a chance to re-enter the lineup.

Despite the struggles, Melendez managed to close out his second year on a high note from an individual point of view. Despite losing out to Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Melendez was one of Illinois’ most in-form players on the night with 10 points and six rebounds. Overall, the sophomore guard averaged six points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 assists during the course of the 2022-23 season.

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    For the time being, it appears as though we’ve seen the last of Melendez in an Illinois uniform. In addition to numerous reports claiming his departure, sophomore guard Luke Goode posted a photo of the two players on Twitter also hinting at the Puerto Rico’s exit.



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