Five in-state recruits to know | Sports

Brad Underwood has cast a wide net when recruiting. He’s taken Illinois national — and global — but Illinois-based prospects are still part of the equation. Ayo Dosunmu, anyone? Beat writer Scott Richey takes a look at five that could potentially make a difference for the Illini:

Ty Rodgers,

ThorntonRodgers, who signed with Illinois in November, technically qualifies. Yes, he’s originally from Michigan, but a senior year transfer to play for Tai Streets and the Wildcats puts the future Illini wing in the in-state mix. Not to mention a candidate for 2022 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Rodgers has done a lot of everything for Thornton since his transfer and has triple-double potential every time he steps on the court.

Morez Johnson Jr.,

St. RitaAn early October visit to Champaign turned out to be the clincher in Johnson’s recruitment. The 6-8 sophomore forward committed to Illinois just a month later following a late summer/early fall boom in high major interest. Johnson won’t make his Illini debut until Nov. 2024, but the increasingly dynamic big man — a force in the paint at both ends of the floor with athleticism to spare — appears locked into his college decision.

Darrin Ames,

KenwoodHow Illinois’ recruiting board has come together in the Class of 2023 it’s clear a lead guard (or two) is a priority even after signing Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris in the Class of 2022. Those two can play off the ball. Now that Jeremy Fears Jr. has verbally committed to Tom Izzo and Michigan State, don’t be surprised if the Illini decide to up the ante on Ames’s recruitment. The 6-1 lefty point guard is a consensus four-star recruit for a reason.

Asa Thomas, Lake ForestDuke-bound Jaden Schutt probably still holds the title as best shooter in the state, but the Yorkville Christian senior might have some competition from Thomas. The Lake Forest junior has grown to 6-7 and not lost any of the shooting ability that saw his recruitment explode this summer with a half dozen high-major offers, Illinois included. The interest in Thomas continued to grow with Minnesota and Ohio State getting involved this fall, as well.

Melvin Bell,

St. RitaIs it too early to start thinking about the Class of 2025? Probably not considering one of Bell’s sophomore teammates already committed to Illinois. The 6-3 guard was offered by the Illini before he ever played a high school game. Then he had 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals during his St. Rita debut. Bell will likely compete for years with Kenwood’s Bryce Heard and Whitney Young’s Antonio Munoz for the No. 1 ranking in the state in the 2025 class.

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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