Ohio State's Meechie Johnson, Zed Key reflect on Team USA camp experience

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Guard Meechie Johnson Jr. joined the Ohio State team midway through last season after graduating high school early and reclassifying.

They didn’t make it past the first round of cuts, but Ohio State’s Meechie Johnson Jr. and Zed Key Jr. learned from their time at Team USA U19 camp.

Now entering their second seasons with the Buckeyes, both players agreed on a primary takeaway from their three days in camp at Texas Christian University.

“Every play counts,” Johnson said on Sunday evening after participating in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University. “I learned that throughout the season (too). When you’re playing in something like that, a lot of things gotta go well for you. Your shot, your decision-making, pretty much everything. Just learning that every play counts, stay aggressive at all times and be the leader of the team.”

Johnson joined the Buckeyes midway through the year after graduating high school early and reclassifying. The year before, Johnson sat out after suffering a torn ACL that wiped out his junior season of basketball, forcing him to work off some rust while also acclimating to the college game.

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He played in 17 games and scored 21 points (1.2 per game) while averaging 5.9 minutes per appearance. Key, a center, averaged 5.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 11.7 minutes while playing in all 31 games for the Buckeyes.

The two were among 27 players called into the camp to finalize the United States’ World Cup roster. At the end of the three days, the Buckeyes were among the first nine cuts.

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“You can’t take any plays off, or you’re going to get cooked because someone else is playing extremely hard,” Key said. “You’ve got to do the little things.”

Zed Key averaged 5.2 points and 3.4 rebounds while playing 11.7 minutes per game last season.

Key said he got to spend time while there with a pair of incoming freshmen he already knew: Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren and Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler. Both made the final list of 12 players who will play from July 3-11 in Latvia.

“It was a good experience,” he said. “Go out there, play against the best talent and showcase our game.”

Johnson and Key figure to be in line for bigger roles during their second seasons at Ohio State. Key will battle Indiana transfer Joey Brunk for the bulk of the minutes at center, while Johnson should factor into both backcourt spots. The Buckeyes lost fifth-year senior point guard CJ Walker to the professional level, and Duane Washington Jr. is increasingly unlikely to return for a senior season as he pursues a spot in the NBA draft.

Johnson said he spoke with Washington after his final game in the NBA draft combine but repeatedly said his approach won’t change regardless of Washington’s decision.

“I’m working to come back and be a bigger role on the team regardless if he’s there or not,” Johnson said. “Whether Duane’s there or not I’m going to do what I have to do for the Buckeyes to do what we have to do to win. I’m working every day the same. The work is going to be consistent and the game will show.”

Some of that will be fueled by being passed over by Team USA.

“Gave it everything we had, me and Zed both,” he said. “I enjoyed it. NBA scouts were there. It’s political, but that’s a lot of things in life. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from being there.”