WASHINGTON, ILL—St. Rita’s Morez Johnson is the state’s newest star attraction after committing to Illinois. He was besieged with autograph seekers at the Kevin Brown Memorial Tournament of Champions this week.
His play on the court was eye-opening. The 6-9 sophomore has seriously elevated his game since last season. Many observers now consider him the top prospect in the state, regardless of class.
He scored 13 in three quarters of play in the Mustangs’ 88-46 win against Denmark-Olar, SC on Wednesday and had 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in a win against Urbana on Tuesday.
“The first game I came out strong but the second game I made a couple mistakes and started slow,” Johnson said.
The two blowout wins may have raised expectations for St. Rita’s season. The Mustangs are loaded with high-major talent but start three sophomores, a freshman and one senior.
“I’m tired of people talking about our age,” Johnson said. “We are ready to win now as long as we keep working hard every day in practice.”
Johnson, James Brown and guard Jaedin Reyna all started last year as freshmen. The group has matured, but is also benefiting from the Mustangs’ more settled lineup this season. Those three start with senior Kaiden Space and talented freshman Melvin Bell.
“We had some guys depart and that helped us to be honest,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “Everyone knows their role and we know what to expect from each other. Now it’s just building chemistry with each game.”
Bell’s debut was stellar. His first high school basket was a drive of the lane and slam. He finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals against Urbana and scored 11 against Denmark-Olar.
“What’s been most impressive about him is his poise,” Russell said. “He doesn’t get rattled, doesn’t get sped up. He’s crazy athletic and one of the top freshmen in the state for sure.”
St. Rita (2-0) was ranked No. 8 in the preseason. There were worries that was too high for such a young, untested group. After the first two games in Washington it appears the Mustangs are ready to be a top team this season.
“Our goal is to be ready to win come March,” Russell said. “We know we will take some hits early on. It’s inevitable to have some highs and lows, being this young. As long as we handle adversity and use it to get better every game by the time March rolls around we will be the team everyone wants us to be.”