Full Court Press: Ohio State Commit Kalen Etzler Feels “Part Of The Program,” Meechie Johnson Returns To The Court

By Colin Hass-Hill on June 24, 2020 at 11:05 am
Kalen Etzler

Kalen Etzler showed up in full Buckeye garb to both Ohio State games he attended last season.

First, he wore an Ohio State baseball jersey to the 79-72 win against Maryland in late February, then returned a week later in a Buckeyes hockey jersey to see his future team top Michigan at the Schottenstein Center. Etzler, a three-star 2021 power forward commit, watched at least parts of both games from behind the scorer’s table with fellow commit Meechie Johnson, and he feels more at home with his decision than ever.

“It's weird, I feel like family when I go now, not just like a little outcast,” Etzler told Eleven Warriors. “I feel like when I walk in the hallways that everyone knows. Even if they don't, I feel like I'm part of it. It's not like I'm just there getting noticed. I'm part of the program now. I've, I don't know how to say it, just earned my right to mention my name with the program.”

Though Etzler won’t be able to sign a National Letter of Intent until at least November, he’s already been committed for a year. The Convoy Crestview rising senior chose to end his recruitment on May 12, 2019, which is the same day Chris Holtmann extended him a scholarship offer.

With family ties to both his home state and the Buckeyes – his uncle, Doug, played for them in the 1990s – the decision was easy at the time, and looking back a year later he doesn’t have any regrets. In fact, he appreciates the fact that coaches from other colleges haven’t even bothered to reach out even to gauge interest.

“I've been left alone, which is kind of nice,” Etzler said. “I don't always have to check social media or remember to call him or her or get asked questions about who's your top three or who's recruiting me. Off the top of my head, I can just be like, ‘I’m going to Ohio State now.’”

With his future set, Etzler has been able to focus his time on his game.

A full offseason facing top competition on the Nike EYBL circuit certainly could have benefited Etzler, who plays high school basketball at the Division IV level in Ohio. Instead, he’s been mainly working out in a gym at his stepfather’s house and getting shots up at a local court he can access. 

“As a player, I think my handle got a lot better,” Etzler said. “I've been working on that a lot. My shot's really smooth right now. It feels good. I'm trying to get some post work in. Trying to work on using my left hand as well as my right. Obviously I'm not really a power player, so it's not like I'm going to just go and straight-up vertical dunk on people, but I'm working on a little hook shot or something, little turn-around.”

Getting his body in peak condition is arguably most important.

Though he stands 6-foot-8, he weighs 177 pounds “on a good day.” Typically, he says, he fluctuates in the mid-170s. His next goal is to get up to and stay at 180 pounds. He hopes protein shakes will aid him since lifting weights hasn’t enabled him to pack on as much weight as he wishes.

“I can lift as much as I want, but it's not doing any justice,” Etzler said. “You can see by looking at me, I got a little more chiseled, but I've just got to stay on top of my eating.”

Back on the court

I, like the rest of the world, want sports back. So what do I do when I haven’t watched live sports in eons? Spend a few hours over the weekend catching some AAU basketball.

In this case, it was well worth the time.

It happened to be the first time Ohio State commit Meechie Johnson returned to the court for a full 5-on-5 game since suffering a torn ACL in early 2019. As he told Eleven Warriors in February, he has been fully healthy for months, but the coronavirus pandemic had held him out of action longer than expected. He remained sidelined for months...

...until Saturday.

Johnson played two games for the Indy Heat – a high-powered program that plays in the Nike EYBL – against a pair of overmatched grassroots teams. He teamed up with Etzler, playing on a loaded roster that also featured Purdue commit Caleb Furst, Illinois commit Luke Goode, Butler commit Pierce Thomas, four-star shooting guard Blake Wesley and others.

There was a thought that Johnson might ease back into action. He might take it slow.

Johnson took the opposite approach. With his added muscle packed into a lean 6-foot-3 frame, he began the action with intense, active defense before showcasing a well-rounded offensive game that included deep 3-pointers, crafty dribbling, smart passing and instinctive finishes around the rim. With the caveat that these were a pair of hour-long games played versus teams that didn’t have any future high-major college guards, Johnson looked every bit of the exciting combo guard who was ranked among the top-50 overall 2021 prospects before his ACL injury. 

Here are a few clips from his performance:

Johnson has to stay healthy, and it’s unfair to judge too much off of two hours against two teams that didn’t match the Indy Heat’s physicality. But there was a lot to like about how Johnson played.

Etzler had a bit of a quieter weekend, serving his team in more of a complementary role. The long, lanky 6-foot-8 forward has a moldable frame that – at 175 pounds – needs quite a bit more weight packed on before he enrolls at Ohio State in a year. He has to add mass that will allow him to match the requisite physicality in the Big Ten. But there's a lot for the coaches to work with as a skilled forward with long arms who has nice touch on his jump shot. 

Here’s a look at some of his action on Saturday.

Evaluation period?

As of now, college coaches can’t hit the road to check out recruits in person, and prospects can’t take visits to campuses. The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially forced all recruiting to take place virtually since mid-March.

At some point in the near future, college coaches might be able to get out of their houses to recruit. In fact, the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee went so far as to propose a fall recruiting calendar that would’ve allowed coaches to go on the road in August and September. However, it was tabled to discuss at a later date by the Division I Council last week.

From the NCAA:

“The Council deferred a decision on temporary alterations to the men’s and women’s basketball recruiting calendars recommended by the oversight committees for those sports. Members needed more time to consider the recommendations and get input from others. The Council intends to hold a teleconference within the next few weeks to vote on the recruiting calendars.”

If the NCAA allows coaches to go on the road, how might that affect Ohio State? 

Well, the coaching staff would finally get a chance to evaluate some of the 2022 prospects who they haven’t seen as much. Maybe some prospects who are on the precipice of offers get them. It could also allow the Buckeyes to get final evaluations of 2021 recruits, giving them a final look at any late risers to target. All coaches are working from behind, so Ohio State isn’t alone on that. 

Offer In The Peach State

There’s no reason to consider Ohio State anything but an underdog in the recruitment of four-star guard Bruce Thornton. But after pulling Eugene Brown II out of Georgia in the 2020 class, the Buckeyes recently set their eyes on another guard from the state.

They extended a scholarship offer to Thornton – a 6-foot, 180-pound point guard from Alpharetta, Georgia – on June 10. He joins five-star Skyy Clark of Brentwood Academy (Tenn.) as the second 2022 point guard to earn a scholarship from Ohio State.

Thornton is the No. 30 overall prospect and seventh-rated point guard in his class, though both rankings could rise in the near future. Wake Forest, Auburn, Maryland, Indiana and Purdue are among the schools that have offered him scholarships over the past three weeks.

An Option...For Four Days

Momentarily, Ohio State found another big man target to pursue, offering four-star Gabe Wiznitzer a scholarship on Friday. He joined Efton Reid, Micawber Etienne, Charles Bediako and Franck Kepnang as a potential answer for the Buckeyes, who have been after a center in their 2021 class.

However, Wiznitzer – a South Carolinian who attends Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia – ended his recruitment on Tuesday by committing to Louisville. In doing so, he reclassified from 2021 and 2020 and revealed he’ll redshirt as a freshman in college.

It’s already on to the next one for Ohio State.

The 2022 Contact Begins

At midnight on June 15, college coaches throughout the country were allowed to directly contact rising juniors – otherwise known as 2022 recruits – for the first time. Ohio State, along with every other program, took advantage by reaching out to numerous prospects.

No, it’s not the most important thing in the world. Nobody’s ever choosing a school based on who contacted them on the first day. But it’s still a decent look at who has caught each school’s attention.

So, here’s a list of nearly 50 players who told various media outlets that they had heard from Ohio State coaches within the first 24 hours. Naturally, this is an incomplete list that doesn’t cover every single person, but rather it’s based on who told a reporter that they’d heard from the Buckeyes.

  • PG Bruce Thornton (Offered)
  • PG Sean Jones (Ohioan)
  • PG Paul McMillan IV (Ohioan)
  • PG DJ Moore (Ohioan)
  • PG Scoot Henderson
  • PG Seth Trimble
  • PG Mason Manning
  • PG Brian Edwards Jr.
  • PG Avery Brown
  • PG Zocko Littleton
  • PG Tamin Lipsey
  • PG Tre Holloman
  • CG Skyy Clark (Offered)
  • CG Sencire Harris (Ohioan)
  • CG Corey Floyd Jr.
  • CG Nick Smith Jr.
  • CG Jameel Brown
  • SG Bowen Hardman (Committed, Ohioan)
  • SG Chris Livingston (Offered, Ohioan)
  • SG Roddy Gayle Jr. (Offered)
  • SG Roderick Coffee (Ohioan)
  • SG Steven Clay
  • SG JaVaughn Hannah
  • SG Robert Cowherd
  • SG Chance Westry
  • SG Jaden Schutt
  • SG Emanuel Sharp
  • SG Larry Hughes II
  • SG Dillon Hunter
  • SF Josiah Harris (Offered, Ohioan)
  • SF Prince Aligbe (Offered)
  • SF Ty Rodgers (Offered)
  • SF Evan Mahaffey (Ohioan)
  • SF Kamari Lands
  • SF Tyler Nickel
  • SF D’Ante Davis
  • SF Kaleb Banks
  • SF Camden Heide
  • SF Joseph Pinion
  • SF Kyler Vanderjagt
  • SF Jack Karasinski
  • SF Danilo Jovanovich
  • PF Dereck Lively II (Offered)
  • PF AJ Clayton (Ohioan)
  • PF Donavan Short
  • PF Gregg Glenn
  • PF Joe Hurlburt
  • PF Will Shaver
  • PF Chauncey Wiggins

Bediako transfers schools

A few months ago, Charles Bediako told us about how his high school teammate – Meechie Johnson – was staying in his ear about attending Ohio State. He said it was a daily occurrence.

That, evidently, has come to an end. After two years at ISA at Andrews Osborne Academy, Bediako announced his transfer to IMG Academy. 

In doing so, he leaves both the state of Ohio and a high school team with a Buckeyes commit for a powerhouse prep school in Florida. While Bediako – a five-star 2021 center originally from Canada – remains a target for Ohio State, his decision to head to IMG won’t help the Buckeyes, who are battling Duke, Alabama and others.

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