Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State has spent much of the past few months making headway in its 2020 recruiting class, chasing targets that include Scottie Barnes, Jalen Bridges, Moses Moody, Eugene Brown, Henry Coleman, Mark Williams, Zach Loveday and Ryan Kalkbrenner.
But since it only has one scholarship currently available in that class, the coaching staff has been able to spend time recruiting prospects in the 2021 cycle, too.
On Tuesday, that focus paid off for the second time this summer when four-star combo guard Meechie Johnson announced his commitment to Ohio State. He joined four-star power forward Kalen Etzler in the class, making the Buckeyes the only team in the country with two 2021 commitments.
With Johnson and Etzler committed, Ohio State can now focus on filling out its 2020 class.
On The Court
Shortly after Johnson began classes at Garfield Heights High School, Chris Holtmann extended him an offer, making it official on Nov. 29, 2017. Just a few months into his reign as Ohio State's head coach, Holtmann made the then-rising high school freshman a priority.
Soon after, Johnson began to make a name for himself as one of the top prospects in Northeast Ohio. He found himself in the spotlight when he scored 50 points in a win against Benedictine in December of his freshman year of high school.
Johnson, who stands around 6-foot-2, averaged more than 20 points per game as a sophomore at Garfield Heights. He's a quality shooter with a deep range who can score from multiple levels. He is listed at 155 pounds, but he has two years to put on weight.
Ohio State views Johnson as a point guard who can also play off the ball, a source told Eleven Warriors. CJ Walker will be out of eligibility and DJ Carton could potentially leave early for the NBA by the time the 2021 signees step foot on campus, so Ohio State needed a lead guard in the class, and the coaches pulled in Johnson.
Over the next few months, Johnson's main focus will be recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in early March during a postseason game with Garfield Heights.
Johnson hasn't played since the injury, which often requires a recovery of between six and nine months, if not longer. Provided he doesn't experience any setbacks in the next couple months, he will return to the court later this year. Once back on the floor, he'll continue to develop with his high school team at Garfield Heights and with All-Ohio Red on the Nike EYBL circuit, and now he'll do so as a future Buckeye.
In The Class
With Johnson and Etzler committed, the Buckeyes now have two of the top Ohioans in their 2021 class.
At this point, Ohio State expects to have either three or four players in its 2021 class, a source told Eleven Warriors. The number could fluctuate based on players leaving early to the NBA, transfers out of the program or how many 2020 prospects the team signs.
If nobody transfers or leaves early to the NBA, here's what the 2021-22 roster would look like with its current scholarship players and commitments.
- Point guard: DJ Carton (junior), Meechie Johnson (freshman)
- Shooting guard: Luther Muhammad (senior), Duane Washington Jr. (senior)
- Small forward: Justice Sueing (senior), Justin Ahrens (senior)
- Power forward: E.J. Liddell (junior), Alonzo Gaffney (junior), Kalen Etzler (freshman)
- Center: Ibrahima Diallo (junior)
Of course, nothing in college basketball goes quite as planned. So the roster could have a few tweaks by the time Johnson rolls around.
Regardless, the opportunity at guard in 2021 is clear.
Muhammad and Washington will be seniors during Johnson's freshman season, and Carton has openly talked about leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season. If Carton leaves college early, Johnson could have a chance to become a starter as early as his freshman year.
Beyond Johnson and Etzler, the Buckeyes still have at least one other opening in their 2021 class, and they're tracking a handful of targets, including a couple in-state prospects. Ever since he committed, Etzler has mentioned four-star shooting guard Malaki Branham as somebody he wants to team up with in college, and he once again tweeted at him after Johnson committed.
@MalakiBranham Meech and i are waiting on that commitment— Kalen Etzler (@kalen_etzler24) August 13, 2019
Branham, who attends St. Vincent-St. Mary, has blown up in the recruiting world this summer. Ohio State jumped on it early, offering him a scholarship in May. Since then, Louisville, Xavier, Missouri, Illinois and Cincinnati have extended offers.
Four-star center Logan Duncomb is also on the Buckeyes' radar. The Archbishop Moeller big man earned an Ohio State offer after a team camp on June 7, and he has since been offered scholarships by Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Cincinnati.
Ohio State is pursuing a number of out-of-state prospects, too, including Caleb Furst, Julian Roper, Carter Whitt, Bryce Hopkins and Randy Brady. With Johnson and Etzler committed, the coaching staff can now afford to be picky with the rest of the class.
Johnson comes from a family of Ohio State fans, which includes his uncle and Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson.
"I am a huge Ohio State football fan, I love it to death. There is nothing like when you have the basketball team and the football team rolling at the same time," Sonny Johnson told Eleven Warriors last summer. "Football is king, everybody knows that. But if you can keep Ohio kids in the state of Ohio, I think the basketball program can be pretty successful also."
The familial connections undoubtedly helped Ohio State in its pursuit of Johnson.
Johnson also has a relationship with LeBron James, who has attended multiple Garfield Heights games during Johnson's career. James is friends with Johnson's father, Meechie Sr., and calls Johnson his "nephew."
Way to work nephew!!! 50 ball. Oh and by the way he's a freshman https://t.co/FfUE6Ujdqg— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 9, 2017
In Columbus, Johnson will have a chance to once again play with Alonzo Gaffney. They played together during the 2017-18 season at Garfield Heights.