Illinois Basketball: What are the Illini getting in Morez Johnson Jr.?

Illinois v Maryland
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The Illinois basketball team secured a top-25 recruiting class for 2024, and this group is led by a monster of a player.

Morez Johnson Jr. committed to the Illini back in November 2021. Unlike most recruits, Johnson stayed committed. Usually, you see a player commit multiple years in advance and then, one day, they decide to back out and pick a different school. Not with Johnson.

Johnson made the Illinois commitment official when he put pen to paper and signed with the program this past November, just over two years to the day he originally committed.

The recruiting sites all rate Johnson highly. He has climbed from a borderline top-50 recruit all the way into the top-35. And in the next month, I believe there is a solid chance Johnson is going to earn the coveted title of McDonald’s All-American, the first for Illinois since Jereme Richmond.

It has hard to find a comp for Illinois basketball big man Morez Johnson Jr.

Johnson is going to keep earning accolades and honors throughout his senior year at Thornton Township High School. He has his Wildcats team sitting at 11-1, as Johnson has started his final year red-hot, averaging 16.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.5 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game.

After each game, there seems to be a dominating highlight posted. Johnson is either having a massive block or is putting his opponent on a poster. His latest freak play came on Thursday night.

But what are we looking at comp-wise? When Johnson plays the game, what current or former players does he remind me of on the court?

Honestly, I can’t think of anyone for the Illini. I am not sure we have ever seen anyone with Johnson’s size, athletic ability, and physical strength come through Champaign. I keep thinking of Brian Randle, but he wasn’t nearly as physically imposing, and he wasn’t the same type of player.

So, then I go to non-Illinois players. The first player that comes to mind when I watch Johnson is Kevin Garnett. The former NBA superstar was a little taller and lankier, but he had the same physical gifts as Johnson. Garnett dominated the paint and was a nightmare around the rim. He was also a McDonald’s All-American who attended high school in Illinois.

In an article by Bob Carter of ESPN back in the mid-2000s, he writes, “Backboard-dusting rebounds, blocks of stunning force, soft jump shots” in describing Garnett’s game. Carter also wrote, “A genetic freak,” said longtime NBA coach Doug Collins. “All the great ones are.”

Most of what is mentioned in the Carter column, and what I have seen with my own eyes, screams Johnson. Obviously, Garnett went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, so that is a lot to live up to.

A current NBA comp that might be more obtainable is someone like Clint Capela. At 6-foot-10, Capela is a bit undersized but has great physical strength and basketball instincts. Over a 10-year NBA career, Capela has averaged 12.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.

Capela has made a long NBA career on being tough and physical in the paint. He runs the court well and has a great ability to block shots. Johnson excels at all of these key areas.

As I look for comps, I can confidently sit here and say that Johnson is special. The level of special is still to be determined, though. With more development and training, I could see him being a Garnett-type of player. At the end of the day, I fully believe this is a generational player who will spend one season at Illinois and then have a lucrative NBA career.

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