Transfer portal yields Big Ten shooter for Georgia basketball

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

ATHENS — Some long-term relationships for Georgia basketball coach Mike White and his staff appear to have paid off in recruiting.

The Bulldogs won the transfer-portal battle for R.J. Melendez, a 6-foot-7 wing player from Kissimmee, Florida. Melendez, a former top-100 recruit, played the past two seasons at Illinois. Coming out of high school, Melendez received a scholarship offer from Florida while White was head coach there and also from Oklahoma State while UGA assistant Erik Pastrana was working there.

“Coach White and coach Pastrana were my first two offers coming out of high school,” Melendez told Jeff Goodman on a live stream of the “Field of 68″ podcast Monday. “So, you know, still having that connection with them, them reaching out right after I got into the portal and staying consistent with me was a big deal. They still have that trust in me and see that player in high school.”

Melendez played 32 games for the Fighting Illini this past season, but did so through a shoulder injury that impacted his shooting percentage. After shooting 60% from 3-point range as a freshman, he dipped to 26% this past season.

Still, Melendez was able to record 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal while playing 26 minutes without a turnover in Illinois’ NCAA tournament loss to Arkansas. He averaged 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 21 minutes per game for the Illini while starting 18 games. He averaged 5.1 points over the two seasons while shooting 83.8% from the free-throw line.

Melendez visited UGA on Saturday and attended the G-Day football game at Sanford Stadium. That was a welcome change for him, as Melendez was unable to visit schools when he was being recruited out of Central Pointe Christian High. That was during the pandemic.

“I had no visits in 2020,” Melendez said. “Being able to go through the process and have visits this time made it a lot more easy and clear for me.”

Melendez said he chose the Bulldogs over Notre Dame, Virginia, Kansas State and Central Florida. He’ll enroll at UGA in June.

Melendez said White’s marching orders were pretty straightforward.

“He wants me to come in, make an impact and be a high-level usage guy; you know, help the team.” Melendez said. “(White) is doing a great job recruiting. The goal is to make the tournament and make a run.”

Georgia went 16-16 last season, White’s first as the Bulldogs’ coach.