St. Rita Underclassmen Loaded with Talent: “I’m Going to Push Them”
If they didn’t know already, anyone who follows Chicago-area basketball Twitter found out on Wednesday, September 2, how much young talent the St. Rita boys basketball team has.
Over the span of a few hours, four of the Mustangs’ 2024 class — players who have yet to play a game in a high school uniform — and one 2023 player all received college offers:
- Northern Illinois and Siena offered 2024 forward Morez Johnson, Jr.
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 center James Brown
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 wing Joshua Pickett
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 point guard Jaedin Reyna
- Siena offered 2023 combo guard Kaiden Space
It was the first offer for four of the five, with Brown already holding offers from Siena, Western Illinois and Howard.
The infusion of young talent aligns with Roshawn Russell, who enters his second season as St. Rita’s head coach, taking over the program. Finishing with a 21-11 record overall in year one gave faith to prospective players about the direction of the program, Russell believes.
“When I was named the head basketball coach, I know there was a buzz in the city,” Russell, 30, said in a phone interview. “Being the age I was, even being an African-American male at a premier Catholic school, I’ll be honest, I felt that eyes were on us. … Thankfully I had a really strong and mature senior class, and we actually broke our school record for a first-year staff and won 21 games. We won a Thanksgiving tournament at Riverside-Brookfield, which was the first time in five years. … Naturally that attracted some great families with some great kids.”
For St. Rita’s 2024 class, Russell said they all knew each other before high school, through AAU and communicating via social media. He equated the current high school landscape to the NBA, where players talk early and often about their options and playing together.
“Once James Brown and Morez Johnson say they’re coming to St. Rita, then it’s kind of a trickle-down effect,” Russell said.
Another attraction of St. Rita for young, talented players is the potential for early playing time: Only one returning senior, point guard Christian Henry , played significant minutes last season.
Space, who Russell said is “one of the best shooters in the state of Illinois, and fellow sophomore center Solomon Mosley are the other two returners who played much in 2019-20. Darrion Baker, another sophomore who missed the season due to injury, also holds an offer from Siena and is expected to play a big role this season. Russell expects 6-5 sophomore Evan Jackson to play more as well.
Russell said college interest last year in the 2023 class carried over to these freshmen and played a role in the early scholarship offers.
“Last fall college coaches came out to the gym, and everyone was really excited about our 2023 class and they were reaching out, ‘We’ll be back, we’ll be back,'” Russell said. “And seeing social media, they see that there’s another class behind [the 2023 class] that’s really strong. Those coaches want to build relationships with our guys early. I’m appreciative that they’re doing that, but I also have to keep reminding our kids that, ‘This is nice, and be appreciative of it. But you still have to do your part.'”
Russell wants to get the program to the place where he has college-level players in every class.
“When you look at the top programs year-in-and-year-out, they have [multiple college-level players],” Russell said. “You look at Whitney Young, you look at Simeon. You don’t get in this to be average, you want to be able to compete with the best. But we’re a long way away, it’s early.”
Russell said he’s been impressed with how genuinely happy his young players are for each other when they get an offer, sharing and commenting on social media. He said that bond is real and will be important as they grow together.
There’s no doubt this St. Rita group has loads of talent and potential. It has a mix of talented guards and big men. College coaches have taken notice, but Russell knows potential doesn’t guarantee results.
“I’m excited, but they’re in for an experience once we begin,” Russell said. “Now with all the attention they’re getting, we’ve got to keep them humble. And I’m going to push them beyond belief. But I know they’re ready, and I’m excited for the journey.”
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