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Here's what Chris Holtmann said about adding Meechie Johnson Jr., class of 2021

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Malaki Branham, a combo guard from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the class of 2021, attended the Ohio State football game Saturday night against Michigan State along with coach Chris Holtmann as part of his official visit.

The signatures are still trickling in. By Friday afternoon, though, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann officially will have added all three members of his 2021 recruiting class to the fold, a number that includes one player who will arrive in exactly one month.

Until he receives signed paperwork from Ohioans Malaki Branham, Kalen Etzler and Meechie Johnson Jr., Holtmann can’t say much publicly about them. During a Wednesday afternoon news conference that took place on the first day of the early signing period, though, it didn’t stop him from speaking in general about the trio.

And in general, he’s enthused about what is to come for the Buckeyes.

More:Dogged approach helped Ohio State land Malaki Branham

“Suffice it to say, I’m really excited about this class,” Holtmann said. “I think we’ve got some guys that I really feel confident are going to be able to step in and help us. Obviously we have some perimeter needs that we needed to address with graduation of CJ (Walker) and a couple perimeter players getting older. We’re really excited about it.”

Branham and Johnson are guards, the former more of a combo and the latter more of a true point. Last Sunday, Johnson announced that he is graduating early from Garfield Heights and will enroll at Ohio State on Dec. 12, enabling him to take advantage of the NCAA’s decision to provide winter sport athletes an extra year of eligibility this season.

Johnson was approached by the coaching staff after Utah State graduate transfer Abel Porter passed out during a conditioning session roughly two months ago. He has since been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic condition in which an enlarged portion of the heart can make it struggle to pump blood.

It meant Porter's basketball career was over and, as Ohio State waited for the NCAA to rule on a waiver for immediate eligibility for Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos, the need was urgent for at least one more guard to provide depth.

“We did look at a couple of different options,” Holtmann said. “One of those was bringing someone in from the outside. This has not been done much, and we were kind of questioning if it could work, but we spent three or four days really diving in with our compliance about what direction could we really go with. Could we look at a graduate transfer? Could we look at a high school senior? It was a lot of research and digging.”

Now, Johnson is a member of the class of 2020 and preparing to play college basketball after missing his entire junior prep season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“The biggest thing for us is we’re going to keep in mind his health,” Holtmann said. “Those decisions (to bring him in) were made in a long-term thinking in mind about what can prepare him for an increased role next year. Having said that, there’s going to be opportunities to help this team but his overall health will need to be fully evaluated and that’s in his best interests here.”

Branham is a four-star guard and national top-30 recruit according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. Etzler is a four-star small forward ranked No. 98 nationally, and they are ranked 1-2 in Ohio among their class. Etzler signed with the program Wednesday evening in an event at his Crestview high school, while Branham will officially sign Friday.

They likely don’t mark the end of the class. Projecting exact roster numbers is near-impossible given the NCAA’s ruling on the season as well as the one-time transfer exemption that is expected to pass in January and would allow all Division I players to transfer schools once without penalty.

Given that, Ohio State remains in the market for a big man to round out the class and has been heavily involved with Charles Bediako, Efton Reid and the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, Chet Holmgren.

“I feel really good about where we’re at,” Holtmann said. “We’ve been recruiting big guys, some of them for over two years now. The pandemic has changed the timeline for some guys. We’re going to run the race with guys that we feel great about and have a great relationship with. Obviously you also have the spring period in which we’ll also certainly take a look at available transfer big men. They’ll be part of the pool we’ll look at as well.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy