Presser Bullets: Bruce Thornton and Meechie Johnson Jr. Prepared to Star As Buckeyes' Backcourt Tandem in 2024-25

By Andy Anders on June 20, 2024 at 6:30 pm

With one of the key safety nets behind them out for the year, expectations are only growing that much more for Bruce Thornton and Meechie Johnson Jr.

The Buckeyes' starting backcourt tandem will be without their expected top option in relief for 2024-25 after Taison Chatman tore his ACL during summer workouts.

Beyond those difficulties, Johnson and Thornton are excited to team up after the former transferred back to Ohio State from South Carolina this offseason. The presence of the junior from Georgia was a top attraction for Johnson in returning to Columbus, he said.

The duo also gained plenty of knowledge from the Buckeyes' "Vet Week," where former players came back to practice with current ones, and are eager to win basketball games this year.

Before Thornton and Johnson took the stage, head coach Jake Diebler met with the media briefly to address the impact of Chatman's injury.

Bruce Thornton

  • On Johnson: "He was my host on my visit here (during recruiting), so it's crazy how everything comes full circle. I'm very excited this year to play with him, go through the season and win big-time games."
  • On what the pair and the team can achieve this campaign: "We can accomplish anything we put our mind to. ... I feel like the last two years I've been here haven't been (up to the standard), to be honest. I feel like we have the pieces and the great team, great coaches around us to make our dreams and make a big-time run in the (NCAA) Tournament."
  • On the feeling of being the last player remaining from his recruiting class: "I still keep in contact with those guys. ... Now being the only one here ... I haven't gotten to the goals I wanted to achieve here at Ohio State. Diebler was a big reason why I stayed, me having belief in him that we're going to turn things around."
  • Learning with his teammates how to close games better is among Thornton's top objectives for offseason improvement. "Being a better defensive player on the ball. ... Being more efficient and closing games as a leader."
  • Thornton took a lot of value from Ohio State's vet week and felt his teammates did the same. "That's the goal is to get to the league, so you're going to soak up all the information that you're going to receive from them."
  • On incoming freshman Juni Mobley: "He just competes at a very high level, you can see it, he wants to win. He has a crazy work ethic. ... He has a super bright future if he stays consistent with what he's doing right now."
  • On how he and Johnson complement each other: "He's an explosive scorer. He can score really fast and score explosively. ... He's an underrated playmaker I feel like."
  • On what it was like going against Brice Sensabaugh again during vet week: "It's a blessing to see him live out his dream. ... I'm just glad to see one of my great teammates come back home."
  • On how the team can gel with so many new faces: "It's definitely hard. I'm not going to say it's going to be easy because it's a new coaching staff, new player. ... Now you're trying to mold a culture of winning. ... Little things that don't seem like as much. ... Winning every day, just making sure we get one percent better."

Meechie Johnson Jr.

  • On what it's like being back and the culture difference: "It's been a blessing to be back. ... Since Coach Diebler has taken over it's been great with these guys ... you can just tell the energy, the culture of being at Ohio State and what it means."
  • On what he and Thornton can achieve and the impact of Chatman's injury: "I feel like me and Bruce will be one of the best backcourts in the country. ... Losing Taison hurts, too, because we knew the impact he was going to have for our team."
  • On why he left Ohio State and why he decided to return: "The first time, it just wasn't going how things wanted, I guess, for everybody. ... To be able to come back, it was everything. To be able to play with another good guard ... knowing Bruce and what he wanted with this team ... everything made sense. We got on the same page with coach and we feel like he put together a good roster to get us to go far."
  • On whether it's defined yet who will play point guard and who will play shooting guard: "There's gonna be times when Bruce is on the ball a lot when he's cooking, making plays, he's a great playmaker. ... If you watched me play at South Carolina, I was able to play off the ball, too. There will be times when I'm on the ball, he's off the ball, that's the point of having good guards."
  • On what he learned leaving home to go to South Carolina: "I learned a lot. When I was gone, I really matured. Me and my dog, we were both out there alone. ... I learned that I'm a good-character guy, I'm not the media, what they portrayed me as when I was here. ... I have so much to prove, I want to be a winner, but I want to do it here."
  • On Mobley: "I love John. Kind of reminds me of me a little bit ... he's not afraid, he's a great shooter, he listens. ... I feel like his future is very bright of what he can do here."

Jake Diebler

  • On Chatman: "First and foremost, just you heart breaks for him because he didn't get to have the type of year last year that he wanted. ... This injury, although same knee, was not related to what he had gone through before. ... This was just kind of a random basketball injury. That, I think, speaks well for him to what that recovery can look like."
  • On how the team will support Chatman through his recovery process: "That support will be time in the program, just making sure we're around him consistently. ... With our vets being in town, E.J. Liddell got to speak to him. I think that was really powerful."
  • Diebler remains confident in Ohio State's roster entering his first year as head coach. "Going into the season, felt like depth was a real strength for us at the guard position and Taison had shown signs of taking a jump. I still think depth is a strength for us, I don't think this changes that. How great that depth is certainly has been impacted, and we're in the process of evaluating what that means, is there any other additions that we need to make there?"
  • On the importance of wings Evan Mahaffey and Micah Parrish stepping up as ball handlers and distributors without Chatman: "I want to play more ball-handlers, I think that will help us play faster. Evan can certainly do some of that. We've had really big plans for Micah from the moment we started recruiting him. This doesn't impact those plans. ... It creates some more opportunity for guys like Juni, I'd add Colin White to that list. With Evan and Devin (Royal), I've challenged them with expanding their game this offseason to be able to do some of those things on the perimeter."
  • On vet week: "It's really impactful and powerful for our guys to see D'Angelo Russell training them and coaching them. ... Ron Lewis is here working out with our guys, Will Buford. ... You go down the list of eras, essentially, that were covered in these last few days, it's really impactful. It left a mark on our guys because it's family."
  • Diebler said the team is looking at all options in potentially adding a guard, but he said one of them is "sitting tight."
  • On what Taison's role was envisioned to be in 2024-25: "Those roles haven't been defined yet. ... I love the fact that we have competition across the board. Has some of that been impacted, for sure."
  • On Johnson: "His growth as a man, as a leader, his maturity is different. He's still the same fun-loving, hard-working young man, but some of those foundational things that make him a special person are still the same. ... I'm so excited about what our backcourt can be. It's gonna help drive this team all season long."
View 7 Comments