Illinois Basketball: Illini could have a legendary Chicago frontcourt in 2024

CHAMPAIGN, IL - DECEMBER 06: General view of Illinois Fighting Illini basketballs seen before the game against the IUPUI Jaguars at State Farm Center on December 6, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN, IL - DECEMBER 06: General view of Illinois Fighting Illini basketballs seen before the game against the IUPUI Jaguars at State Farm Center on December 6, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

There is a legit shot the Illinois basketball team puts together a top-five class for 2024.

Throughout time, the Illini have pulled in some great recruiting classes. The class of 2002 was the best recruiting class I have ever seen on paper and on the basketball court. It is going to be hard to top a recruiting class that had a ton of hype coming in and lived up to that hype with a national title appearance.

But the class of 2022 already has half of the battle won. On paper, this group looks to be one of the best recruiting classes Illinois has ever pulled in. When a class ranks inside the top 10, you know there is some special talent.

There were roughly 20 years between those two classes, though. That is way too long of a gap. Thankfully, like Bill Self in the early 2000s, Brad Underwood and his coach staff can recruit well. I don’t think Illinois fans will have to wait too long for another legendary recruiting class to come through. I actually believe the next great class is coming in 2024.

Illinois basketball could have a legendary frontcourt with Morez Johnson Jr. and James Brown.

As of right now, the Illini have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2024. ZZ Clark, brother of Skyy Clark, is a part of this class and should end up being ranked somewhere inside the top 125 when the full recruiting rankings are released.

Clark will help lead the Illinois backcourt to great heights during his time in Champaign. There is also a reason to be excited about the Illinois frontcourt.

The highest-rated recruit committed to Illinois so far in 2024 is Morez Johnson Jr. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound power forward is a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 42 player in the country. His commitment to the Illini was huge back in November 2021. Johnson pledging that early showed validity in what the Illinois class of 2024 could end up being.

But Illinois isn’t anywhere near being finished with the 2024 class. Another big target for the Orange and Blue is Johnson’s teammate up at St. Rita High School, James Brown. He is a 6-foot-9, 210-pound center who is rated as a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 31 player in the class of 2024.

With Johnson already committed to Illinois, he now seems to be recruiting Brown to join him in what could be the most dynamic frontcourt in program history. This past weekend, the Illini coaching staff had both superstars down for an unofficial visit. This isn’t the first unofficial visit the duo has been on to Champaign either. They both visited Illinois back in October 2021 as well.

So, what would Illinois basketball be getting with Johnson and Brown? A powerful one-two punch in the frontcourt. The Twin Towers. The Smash Brothers. The Meanstreets Maulers. The St. Rita Smashers. They are great on the court together at the high school level, and they would be great together in college.

This summer, both Johnson and Brown suited up for the Meanstreets, an AAU program out of Illinois competing at the highest levels, in the Nike Peach Jam. Johnson and Brown helped lead the 16U Meanstreets team to a 5-2 record while putting up impressive numbers.

Johnson was able to finish his Peach Jam run averaging 12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game. Brown put up very similar numbers to Johnson with 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game.

These types of numbers and the winning Johnson and Brown have done with the Meansteets is just spillover from the high school basketball season. The two big men dominated with St. Rita this past season going 23-12 in the regular season and 11-3 in conference play.

This great play earned the No. 3 seed for St. Rita in the Thornwood Sectional where they would open up against Sandburg. St. Rita would win the first round by holding Sandburg to just 28 points. The next matchup was against Chicago powerhouse Morgan Park. St. Rita would win that game 72-61.

Johnson and Brown would then lead St. Rita to another double-digit win over Homewood-Flossmoor 68-58. That would set up the sectional championship between the No. 1 seed Kenwood against No. 3 St. Rita. It was a close contest in which St. Rita actually led heading into the fourth quarter. Kenwood would eventually pull ahead, winning the game 75-68.

In the run that Johnson and Brown had with St. Rita to the sectional championship, they both put up solid numbers. Johnson would average 16.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game in the four playoff contests. He also shot 67.6% from the field and a solid 72% from the free throw line.

Brown showed off his all-around ability in the playoffs with 8.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 63.2% from the field and 66.7% from the charity stripe. Both players put up great numbers in what was a great run, but there is one thing I want everyone to think about after I laid out all of these numbers.

Johnson and Brown put up these numbers as sophomores.

Think about that for a second. These two great big men are on the same team, knocking off top teams in the state of Illinois, and they haven’t even entered their junior year in high school. Just imagine the development of Johnson and Brown over the next two years.

St. Rita is going to win at least one 4A state title in the next two seasons. These two will lead the way. Chicago produces the best basketball talent in the country, and Johnson and Brown are an example of that. Hopefully, the Illini can land Brown and reunite these two Chicago legends in Champaign. They not only have a chance to win a state title at the high school level, but they could also win a national title at the college level.

Next. Projected Illini offensive depth chart for 2022. dark