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What's next for Meechie Johnson Jr. with the Ohio State basketball team this season?

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Meechie Johnson Jr. will graduate early from Garfield Heights and enroll at Ohio State in December.

CLEVELAND — The smiles shared throughout the church that was filled Sunday with Meechie Johnson Jr.’s friends and family reflected a major truth to his decision.

Inside the Harvest Time Evangelistic Ministries Worship Center on the city’s east side, Johnson announced that he would be graduating high school early and joining the Ohio State men’s basketball team for the 2020-21 season. It moves him one step closer to his ultimate goal of reaching the NBA, he said, and allows him to immediately pursue his goal of helping the Buckeyes win their first national title since 1960.

It was a joyous celebration, but the smiles also came from the fact that his decision has little downside to his future potential at Ohio State. When Johnson gets to Ohio State on Dec. 12 and begins the process of adjusting to the next level as a freshman, he will also be taking advantage of what is essentially a free year after the NCAA granted extra eligibility to all winter-sports athletes this year.

That means that while Johnson will be a freshman this year, he will also still technically be one next season. Should he so choose, Johnson could play nearly five seasons of college basketball without redshirting.

“I told him last week, 'You go into Ohio State, you’re not going in there as a freshman, you’re going in there as a senior,’ ” his father, Demetrius Johnson Sr., said. “You have to be a senior because you have seniors that want to win now. Is he going to make some mistakes? Yeah, but I told him, 'You’ve got to grow up fast.’ ”

The Buckeyes are still finalizing their nonconference schedule and are waiting for the Big Ten to announce what conference play will look like this season. The only game currently on the schedule after Johnson is to arrive at Ohio State is a Dec. 19 matchup with North Carolina as part of the CBS Sports Classic that will be played, coincidentally, at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

There will be a learning curve, especially for a player who missed his entire junior season while rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the playoffs of his sophomore year. However, Kenneth Pride, a local trainer who helped guide Johnson through his rehab, said he’s capable of making the transition. It helps that Johnson is 18 years old, which makes him older than Musa Jallow was when he graduated early and joined Ohio State during the summer of 2017.

“You’ve got bigger, faster, stronger grown men,” Pride said. “You’re just trying to get to them or surpass them. The initial challenge will probably be the speed of the game, the certain movements you used to be able do in high school, but he will be ready. I can say that.”

Johnson joins a backcourt that received a Friday boost when Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos had his waiver for immediate eligibility approved by the NCAA, so Johnson won't need to be immediately thrust into a significant role. He can practice and learn from fifth-year senior CJ Walker and junior Duane Washington, the team's projected starters, in addition to Sotos, a fourth-year player.

While he’s excited for the next phase of his career, Johnson said the decision wasn’t made without any sadness.

“Leaving my brothers at Garfield (Heights), I’ve been around that area for a long time so it wasn’t easy leaving them this year,” he said. “They were looking to me to be a leader. It feels good, though, because I’m excited for what the future brings and what’s to come.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy