Meechie Johnson Jr. to graduate early and join Ohio State basketball team
CLEVELAND – Ohio State fans are going to get to see Meechie Johnson Jr. a bit earlier than expected.
On Sunday, Johnson announced at a press conference at the Harvest Time Evangelistic Ministries Worship Center that he will reclassify, graduate and join the Buckeyes this season.
"High school basketball was fun," he said. "I enjoyed it, but the ultimate goal is to win a national championship, win at the college level and get to that NBA. College is one step before that, and I’m just ready to go learn and help make an impact for these guys."
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to all college basketball players this season. After joining the Buckeyes, Johnson will still technically be a freshman for the 2021-22 season, when he was initially slated to enroll in college.
It's the latest in what has been an atypical career for Johnson. A Garfield Heights product, Johnson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the final game of his sophomore season and then opted to transfer to the nearby Osborne Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, for his junior season.
He spent the entire year rehabbing before deciding to return to Garfield Heights, where he would play for his uncle, Sonny Johnson, for his senior year. As part of Sunday's event, he was given a surprise honorary high school commencement ceremony.
It's not immediately clear when he will join the Buckeyes. A roster spot will need to open, but one will become available once the NCAA approves a medical hardship waiver for Abel Porter, whose career is over after being diagnosed with a genetic heart condition during the last few weeks.
“Unfortunately a player named Abel Porter had a condition where unfortunately he wasn’t able to play,” Johnson said. “The coaches reached out to me and told me they wanted me to come early and play maybe this December. There were a lot of things that had to be done.”
The location for Sunday's announcement was chosen because Johnson's grandfather, William, has been the pastor here for eight years.
The move will allow Johnson to get his feet wet and could also provide more depth for the Ohio State backcourt. The Buckeyes have fifth-year senior CJ Walker and junior Duane Washington Jr. written into the starting lineup but saw their depth take a serious blow with Porter's news.
Johnson said the Buckeyes approached him about the possibility in early October.
"They gave me a phone call October 7 and told me that I would have to wait two weeks because Abel was getting some testing done," Johnson said. "They were seeing, could he come back? Could he play? They didn’t know. It was just a waiting period for 2-3 weeks. They called and said he can’t play, unfortunately, and we still want you to come down here and help us win, be an impact, learn from CJ (Walker), learn from Duane (Washington Jr.), learn from Jimmy and these great guys we have. I said coach, I’m ready to get to it."
He will report to campus December 12, go through COVID protocols and then be available to play.
The day after Porter was ruled out for the entire season, though, Ohio State got some good news when Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos had his waiver for immediate eligibility approved after an initial waiver request was denied. Johnson will give the Buckeyes four true guards on their 2020-21 roster.
"This is not easy," he said. "A lot of people may see the things I get, but I've worked hard for every little thing. Just to be able to get to this point, coming off an injury, some people don't always come back the same. To be in this position, I'm grateful."
The early signing period opens Wednesday for the class of 2021, and Ohio State is expected to also sign four-star guard Malaki Branham from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and three-star power forward Kalen Etzler from Convoy Crestview.
The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Johnson is a four-star recruit rated No. 76 nationally and the No. 14 point guard in the nation, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. He's the No. 2 recruit from Ohio, one spot behind Branham and one ahead of Etzler.