WILLOUGHBY – It’s not as if the International Sports Academy at Andrews Osborne Academy needed Meechie Johnson’s help taking down five-star guard Chris Livingston and his Western Reserve Academy team on Thursday night.
Contributions from four-star 2021 center Charles Bediako, Alabama commit Keon Ambrose-Hylton and 6-foot-6 wing Andy Barba were more than enough to top WRA, despite Livingston’s 42 points and 11 rebounds. ISA picked up a decisive 106-65 victory.
Had Johnson wanted to play, though, he could have. Eleven months removed from suffering a torn ACL in his left knee, the 2021 Ohio State commit is finally back to “100 percent” healthy. He says he reached that point two or three weeks ago.
“I'm ready, but I'm being patient,” Johnson told Eleven Warriors on Thursday evening. “If I wanted to play now, I could put a brace on and go out there. But I'm just being patient and when the time comes, I know I'll be a completely different player than what I was 11 months ago. I'm so ready to get back, but at the same time I'm just taking my time like I've always been able to do during this whole process.”
Ever since transferring from Garfield Heights to ISA at Andrews Osborne in August, the recovery plan has been for Johnson to sit out the entirety of his junior season before returning for grassroots basketball in the spring and summer. He doesn’t have any intention of deviating.
“My favorite thing right now is really just to explode and get to the rim. I haven't been able to do that.”– Meechie Johnson
His next step will be to begin playing one-on-one in a week or two, three-on-three in the middle of March and five-on-five by the end of March. Once April comes around, Johnson plans to get ready for the start of the AAU season, when he will play in his first games since the injury. He’ll reportedly play with Bates Fundamentals – featuring 2022 five-star phenom Emoni Bates – on the Nike EYBL circuit.
“However I look like, if I'm ready to play, I'll get out there, which I think I will be ready,” Johnson said. “And I just go from there. Timetable, everything's been good. That's kind of the plan, just taking it week by week and seeing where I'm at.”
Johnson sees no reason to push himself back into action, saying he doesn’t care about playing in games right now because he just appreciates getting back on the court to work out without restrictions. Even in those moments, without anybody defending him, he says he sees notable differences in his abilities right now compared to the last time he suited up and played in a game.
Most notably, he says, he’s more explosive at the rim and has a larger vertical leap, which allowed him to begin dunking with force a couple days ago. The 6-foot-3 combo guard also says he put on more weight, more muscle and has more fluid hips.
“My favorite thing right now is really just to explode and get to the rim,” Johnson said. “I haven't been able to do that. I've been able to shoot, been able to spot-ups and run-ins and stuff like that, but now I'm able to change a lot of direction more, get to the rim and then work on my defense as well and guard a little bit.”
Mechie working to come back better. pic.twitter.com/RwhdCKNebU— Demetrius Johnson (@HWBBall15) February 4, 2020
Johnson, currently ranked as the No. 79 overall prospect in 2021, spent much of the past year working on his shot because he was unable to do much else. He’s in the process of figuring out how to marry his shooting prowess with what he believes will be an improved ability to get to the rim.
“Just becoming that complete player that I know I can be,” he said.
Right now, having gotten his left leg fully healthy, Johnson’s also trying to get his confidence back and find an on-court rhythm again. The mental aspect of playing without thinking about his knee, he says, is the most challenging hurdle he currently has to overcome.
Johnson has enlisted help in a few current NBA players – Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers, Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs, Zach Lavine of the Chicago Bulls and Dennis Smith Jr. of the New York Knicks – and five-star Duke signee Jeremy Roach who have offered him words of advice at various points in the past year. He says he and Roach text or message each other via Instagram every week or two. Roach also suffered a torn ACL in high school before returning in November for his senior season at Virginia’s Paul VI Catholic.
They told him that although he won’t feel the same mentally at the beginning of his recovery that
“It was just good having people to talk to and look up to in this type of injury,” Johnson said.
For the most part, Johnson said, Ohio State’s coaches haven’t been overly involved in his recovery process, though at least one assistant is in contact with him each week. Ryan Pedon attended the ISA-WRA game on Thursday evening to see Johnson, Bediako and Livingston.
Johnson, one of Ohio State’s two 2021 commits along with four-star power forward Kalen Etzler, sends Chris Holtmann videos of his workouts, and they keep in contact throughout the week.
“He don’t really tell me too much to do,” Johnson said. “He just tells me to take my time, be patient and he just can't wait to coach me. That's kind of what he says. He encourages me, he asks me what I'm doing and what I've been working on, how is it going with me and we go from there. But as far as telling me what to do, he leaves that up to me and I take care of that. And I send him videos of me working out and getting stronger and stuff, and he'll reply to me like, ‘You're looking real well. Keep it going. I'm proud to see that. I can't wait until you get here.’”