Meechie Johnson Jr. has 17 collegiate appearances under his belt, logging nearly 100 minutes of basketball in regular season and Big Ten tournament play with 18 shot attempts to his credit.
But in Johnson’s eyes, 2020-21 was more of a trial run than a true freshman season. In fact, the Cleveland native thinks of the upcoming schedule as his real introduction to Buckeye fans, and his freshman listing on the Ohio State roster couldn’t convince you otherwise.
Johnson said he’s put on size, adjusted to the speed of the game and is ready to take on a bigger role for Ohio State in his second “first” season, eager to prove the player he was a year ago is a shell of what he will become in the Buckeye program.
“I just want to go out there and show what I can do. I was able to show bits and pieces of it last year, and I feel like this year, people are gonna be able to see what I really can do,” Johnson said Sept. 28. “Honestly, it’s really been a long time since people have seen me play – I wouldn’t say a full game, but a lot of minutes – since I tore my ACL back in high school. So what they’re gonna see this year, this upcoming season, it’s gonna be shocking to a lot of people.”
Johnson’s ACL tear cost him the back half of his sophomore season at Garfield Heights in Cleveland, and the entirety of his junior year of high school hoops. Johnson returned to AAU action in the summer before what should have been his senior year, but on Nov. 8, 2020, the four-star recruit reclassified to join the Buckeyes a year early.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann eased him into things, as Johnson didn’t make his Buckeye debut until January, but the transition was a difficult one nonetheless.
“I came late, I did a half-year, no conditioning, no time in the weight room. I had to learn 50 plays in one week,” Johnson said. “I mean, it was tough. I did my senior year in college, and I consider myself a freshman because that’s what I would’ve been. I’m young, so that’s what I consider myself.”
As one would expect, the 6-foot-2 guard looked small on the court when compared to the big bodies in the Big Ten. Johnson said he weighed just 169 pounds when he got to Ohio State, but is now up to 180 after spending the offseason in the weight room.
The biggest adjustment, though, was the speed of the college game, something Johnson said he’s caught up to in the lead-up to the 2021-22 season.
“I always seen college like, ‘Aw man, I can go play in a game like that.’ But just the pace, like actually really being in it and being there is difficult, because it goes fast. It goes really fast, and I learned that quick, and I had to,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a choice. I’ve learned it better over the summer, and I think that’s gonna help me over the summer for next year. I think that was the biggest thing that I learned from last year, is the pace of the game and how quick things can go. Things happen fast.”
Ready For War Go Bucks pic.twitter.com/fREwtZykWS— Meechie Johnson (@MeechieJohnson0) October 3, 2021
Johnson played double-digit minutes on four occasions for Ohio State last season, but none after Feb. 4. Still, Johnson said continuing to gain experience as the season wore on, especially in practice, helped slow things down last year.
Following the season, Johnson competed for a spot on the Team USA U19 World Cup roster, and also got to work with the likes of D’Angelo Russell and other former Buckeyes turned professional hoopers at team events. Both of those experiences no doubt helped Johnson slow down the pace of the game.
“As I started to play more last year it started to become slower just because of the more reps I was getting on the court, the more practice I was getting going up against CJ Walker and Duane (Washington) every day,” Johnson said. “And then having a full summer in here with a guy like D’Angelo Russell. If you watch D’Angelo Russell, you see how slow and how he plays at his own pace. Able to work out with him, learn from him and his knowledge, everything is slowing up.”
The Rookie and The Vet #0 pic.twitter.com/bLn9SUKrWJ— Meechie Johnson (@MeechieJohnson0) June 28, 2021
Johnson made an impression on Shannon Scott over the summer, as the former Ohio State point guard named the young Buckeye as a player he expects to have “a big year this year.”
But one thing that slowed Johnson down in a more literal sense this summer was a lower-leg injury the team made official in a release on Sept. 7. Johnson said the issue was “nothing major,” although he did have to wear a walking boot for a time. Johnson said he dealt with the issue for all of last year and throughout the summer.
“Coach said they are gonna need me to be a bigger impact and role for the team, so it’s best to treat it now, do what I can now, attack it so it doesn’t linger throughout the season and now I’m missing time during the season,” Johnson said. “It was nothing crazy, I didn’t want people worrying about it.”
When Walker and Washington departed the Ohio State program this offseason, it was clear the Buckeyes would need assistance in the backcourt. Holtmann brought in seasoned transfer guards in Jamari Wheeler and Cedric Russell, but Johnson figures to see his minutes increase as well, if healthy.
Holtmann said as much at Big Ten Media Days Thursday in Indianapolis, when the Buckeye coach alluded to the bigger role he expects his young guard to play.
“Scoring’s gonna be an important part of his role this year,” Holtmann said. “We need that from him, whether at the point guard spot or the combo spot. He’s gonna grow into a bigger role, so I think there will be some stuff that, naturally, he’ll work through. We’re gonna need a lot more from him than what we needed last year, and that’s just the reality. I think he’s ready for it. I think as long as he stays healthy, I think he’s poised to have a good freshman year.”
But scoring is not all Johnson wants to do for the Buckeyes this year. For a guard that didn’t have the ball in his hands enough to rack up many assists last season, Johnson wants to show that he can facilitate the offense for Ohio State this year.
“More play-making. Last year I feel like a lot of people seen me come in and just hit shots, play defense,” Johnson said. “I think people are gonna see me be able to make more plays, getting to the rim, being a better free-throw shooter than I was last year. People are gonna see a lot that I think is gonna shock them. People haven’t really gotten to see me play a ton, and this year there’s gonna be a lot to show. I’m very excited because I’ve just been putting in a lot of work.”
With the number of seniors in the program and pair of transfer guards that have entered, it’s likely that Johnson will need another full year before cracking the starting lineup in a regular capacity for the Buckeyes.
However, if Johnson’s strides are as evident as he has indicated in the preseason, Buckeye fans should be excited about the future of the Ohio State backcourt in years to come.
“Things have gotten way easier. Just the fact that when I came here, the stuff that happened, I didn’t expect,” Johnson said. “So now, having that full year and going into the summer with film and things that I can learn from, I know what to expect.
“Now I know what to do to my game to become a better player.”