Ohio State men's basketball power rankings: No. 6 Meechie Johnson Jr.

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Meechie Johnson Jr. (0) takes questions from reporters during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at Value City Arena in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

With the promise of fans in the stands and a return to normalcy, Ohio State will open the 2021-22 season with an exhibition game against Indianapolis on November 1. Eight days later, Akron will come to Value City for the first official game, a visit that canceled last year when COVID-19 delayed the start of the season.

The Buckeyes will bring a 15-man roster to their sideline this season, one with unprecedented experience that features two players in their sixth years of college basketball and four others in their fifth. Third-year forward E.J. Liddell is the first Ohio State player to return after being named first-team all-Big Ten since Aaron Craft did so in 2013-14, and his decision to return after exploring his NBA draft stock has the Buckeyes opening the season picked to finish fourth in a joint media preseason poll conducted by The Dispatch and The Athletic.

With all of that in mind, The Dispatch is counting down to the start of the season with our annual power rankings. These rankings are an educated guess at which players will have the most significant on-court impact during the course of the entire season and will feature each player on the roster.

The rankings continue today with Meechie Johnson Jr.

No. 6 – Meechie Johnson Jr.

Position: Guard

Class: Freshman (second year)

Height/weight: 6 feet 2 / 172 pounds

Jersey number: 0

Major: Marketing

Background

A native of Garfield Heights, Ohio, Johnson followed a winding path that led him to Ohio State. As a sophomore who averaged 23 points per game, he suffered a significant injury to his right knee while playing in the final game of the regular season. The diagnosis was a torn ACL and MCL, and it would require a rehab process that would keep him off the court for his entire junior season. That year, he transferred to the Osborne Academy in nearby Willoughby, Ohio, where he worked his way back from the injury in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After his junior season, Johnson opted to return to Garfield Heights, where his uncle, Sonny Johnson, would get to coach him for one final season. Instead, as Ohio State’s backcourt suffered some key losses, Johnson chose to graduate early, enroll with the Buckeyes in December and take advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded to all players by the NCAA. At a ceremony held inside Harvest Time Evangelistic Ministries Worship Center, where his grandfather, Williams, has been a pastor for nearly a decade, Johnson announced the news and was presented with a surprise high school diploma in November 2020.

In large part due to the injury and COVID limiting his opportunities to play AAU basketball, Johnson was ranked as the nation’s No. 72 overall prospect when he committed to Ohio State as a member of the class of 2021 in August 2019. Once he reclassified to the 2020 class, Johnson remained a four-star prospect but finished ranked as the No. 126 national prospect, the No. 23 point guard in the country and the No. 3 recruit from Ohio.

Johnson also had offers from Louisville, Georgetown and Miami University, among others, and was receiving attention from schools like Michigan State before committing to the Buckeyes.

Need to know

Although they are not related by blood, Johnson considers LeBron James like an uncle, and the NBA great has seen him play in person. Johnson Sr. and James have a long-standing relationship. Johnson Jr. and James' son, Bronny, have a relationship, and he has been close with Dwayne Wade, too. After he committed to Ohio State, Johnson built up a relationship with fellow pledge Kalen Etzler and together they helped recruit Malaki Branham to join them in the class of 2021. Johnson recently announced a car sponsorship as part of his name, image and likeness rights. As a freshman at Garfield Heights, Johnson scored 50 points against Cleveland Benedictine in his second game.

He has more than 115,000 followers on Instagram and 64,000 on TikTok. Johnson goes by the nickname “Bad News.” His full first name is Demetrius. His father played collegiate basketball for Kent State from 2004-05 while current Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon was the director of basketball operations for the Golden Flashes. He’s the second player to graduate early, reclassify and join the Buckeyes. Musa Jallow was the first, who enrolled for the 2017-18 season as a 17-year-old. Johnson arrived at Ohio State older than Jallow did for his first year.

2020-21 recap

The year began with Johnson’s return to the court at the AAU level, where he played for the Indy Heat program alongside future Ohio State teammate Etzler. That experience helped him shake off the rust that came with a junior year of rehab coupled with the limitations COVID-19 placed on prep athletes.

He was set to play for his uncle for one final season until the Buckeyes came calling, and when they did Johnson got to Ohio State in mid-December. Once he passed a battery of medical testing, Johnson began the process of acclimating to the Division I level in the midst of a season and made his season debut by playing four minutes in a road win against Rutgers on January 9. It was the first of 14 straight games in which Johnson would see action, typically as a late-half substitution allowing either CJ Walker or Duane Washington Jr. to catch a breather.

Johnson hit the first shot he ever attempted, a three-pointer, in a home win against Northwestern on January 13. He finished the year averaging 1.2 points in 5.9 minutes across 17 appearances. He finished 27 seconds shy of 100 minutes played for the season and was 6 for 12 (50.0%) from three and 1 for 6 from inside the three-point line.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice. CJ had got hurt I was still supposed to have more time to get ready. When CJ got hurt and Jimmy got hurt, things came quick. The pace of the game, how every possession matters, every little thing I knew mattered but not to the full extent.”

During the summer, Johnson and teammate Zed Key participated in a Team USA U19 basketball camp but did not make the final roster.

2021-22 outlook

In middle school, Johnson said he was known for his passing. In high school, his stature grew as a scorer. Now, he will have every opportunity to showcase both aspects of his game in an all-new Ohio State backcourt.

“He’s gonna have to (be a playmaker) for us,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’ll need that from him, either at the point guard spot or the combo spot. He’s gonna grow into a bigger role, so there will be some stuff that naturally we’ll work through. As long as he stays healthy, he’s poised to have a good freshman year.”

Johnson did spend roughly the last three weeks of the summer resting and primarily wearing a walking boot after experiencing some soreness in his right leg. It was a precautionary move designed to help prevent Johnson from suffering any stress-related injuries later in the season.

Entering his second season, but his first full year, Johnson is in line to make a more pronounced impact while still considering himself a freshman.

“My expectations this year are to do everything I can to help my team win,” he said. “I feel like last year, when I did play I came in and played my role with the best of my ability in the minutes I was able to get. This year, having that chance to play more minutes and have a bigger impact, I feel like I’ll be able to show things that people wasn’t really expecting out of me. It’s going to be a good year.”

Additional reading

Meechie Johnson:Buckeyes land commitment from Garfield Heights guard

Meechie Johnson:Hard work pays off for Ohio State commitment

Meechie Johnson:Ready to graduate early and join Ohio State basketball team

Meechie Johnson:Ready to excite Ohio State fans in second season (subscribers only)

Meechie Johnson:Ohio State celebration is a family affair

Meechie Johnson:On Father's Day, Buckeyes 'juniors' celebrate bonds with the dads whose names they share

Previous power rankings

No. 7 – Justin Ahrens

No. 8 – Malaki Branham

No. 9 – Cedric Russell

No. 10 – Joey Brunk

No. 11 – Jimmy Sotos

No. 12 – Gene Brown III

No. 13 – Seth Towns

No. 14 – Harrison Hookfin

No. 15 – Kalen Etzler

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy