Kalen Etzler was scrolling through Instagram on an otherwise innocuous Tuesday night when, as he put it, his “heart stopped a little bit.”
It was just around 6 p.m. on August 13 when Etzler, the first verbal commitment for Ohio State’s class of 2021, saw a video of classmate Demetrius “Meechie” Johnson Jr. that had been posted by his father. Standing outside of Value City Arena under cloudy, wind-swept skies, the younger Johnson had just wrapped up an unofficial visit to Ohio State that culminated with his commitment to the program.View this post on Instagram
Very emotional and blessed day for me and my family! I would like to take the time to thank ALL of the coaches who ever texted, called and offered my son. We’re truly blessed and grateful. With that being said, my son @meechie._johnson is fully committed to The Ohio State University. Go BUCKS, we are staying home!
The news was significant for the Buckeyes, as they locked up a second in-state prospect. For Etzler, it was equally personal given that the 6-foot-2 point guard from Garfield Heights was a player he had been recruiting to join him in Columbus.
And yet, it was still a surprise.
“I was just really, really, really shocked,” Etzler told The Dispatch three days later. “I had no idea that he was going to commit. I don’t think anybody had any idea he was going to commit. I was expecting Malaki to commit before Meechie, so I looked down at my phone and my heart just kind of stopped a little bit. I was shocked.”
The “Malaki” Etzler mentioned is the other fellow Ohioan Etzler is hoping will join the duo at Ohio State in 2021. Malaki Branham is a four-star combo guard from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and the top prospect in Ohio according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
When he saw the news, Etzler said he immediately texted Johnson to congratulate him on the commitment. Then he called Branham on FaceTime to make sure he heard the news.
“He was also shocked,” Etzler said. “He didn’t think Meechie was going to commit right away.”
Johnson, the No. 71 national recruit and No. 3 from Ohio, would almost certainly be higher if not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament that shortened his sophomore season and held him out of the summer AAU season. It also prevented Johnson and Etzler from playing on the same AAU team, as the guard will play for All-Ohio Red and Etzler has left that team to return to Indy Heat.
They’ll play against each other on the EYBL circuit before playing together at Ohio State. Until them, the two will continue keep in touch via text, FaceTime and social media.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Etzler said of Johnson. “I’ve watched his highlights and he’s a really, really energetic player. I think I can feed off of him. He’s a really, really good passer, especially in transition. I think he makes the game even easier for everyone else, just being able to handle pressure and play some D.”
Entering his junior season at Convoy Crestview, the 6-foot-8, 195-pound Etzler is a four-star recruit, the No. 7 Ohioan and the No. 149 national recruit according to 247Sports. He committed to the Buckeyes in mid-May.
“The first thing I want to do when I get in there is get some playing time, so I’m trying to get in the gym with my trainer and I’m trying to work as hard as I can,” he said. “I’m trying to get stronger and tougher so I can play as soon as possible, especially with Meechie. With these guys committing it makes me even more excited and helps me keep the fire going in my workouts.”