Men’s Basketball: Johnson Jr. will show ‘a lot more’ in second season

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Ohio State freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. (0) moves the ball down the court during the Ohio State-Purdue game on Jan. 19. Ohio State lost 65-67. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Ohio State’s men’s basketball season is still over a month from tipoff, but freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. checks the Buckeyes’ scrimmage and regular-season schedule every day.

Despite being listed as a freshman, Johnson will enter his second season with the Buckeyes after reclassifying to the class of 2020 last November. Nonetheless, the guard said the 2021-22 campaign will be like starting again at square one — but one where he can show his true colors.

“I’ve been working my butt off in the summer, in the weight room, on the court. This is like year one to me, honestly,” Johnson said. “I did my senior year of high school. I sacrificed and I came here to be a part of a winning culture. That helped me. I wouldn’t take that back.”

Upon joining the Buckeyes in December, Johnson made his debut Jan. 9 at Rutgers, playing four minutes. In the team’s next game against Northwestern, he made a quick impact by splashing his first 3-point attempt and later swishing another.

Through his first four games, Johnson played 42 minutes, but he saw just 48 minutes of action through 13 games for the rest of the season. The 6-foot-2 guard said joining the Buckeyes a year early was a learning experience.

“I felt like I was going to play more coming in, but I also knew that I had to learn. I wouldn’t take it back,” Johnson said. “I took from what I learned into the summer, and now I got to take the summer to the season. I’m just happy to be here. I feel like I’ve grown in a lot of areas. I’m just ready to show it.”

Johnson was seen wearing a boot on his right leg during the summer. He said he played through a nagging ailment all of last season, but the boot was a “precautionary thing.”

“I feel great. Coach said they’re going to need me this year to be a bigger impact and a role for the team, so it was best to treat it now,” Johnson said. “Do what I can now, attack it so it don’t linger throughout the season and I’m missing time in the season. It was nothing crazy, I didn’t want people worrying about it. I had to be careful and make sure I’m healthy for the season.”

The Cleveland native shot 38.9 percent from the field during limited action, totaling 21 points over 17 games. Interestingly, Johnson shot 50 percent from behind the 3-point line, which stood as tops among the Buckeyes.

Ohio State welcomed back alumni from previous Buckeye teams during summer workouts, and Johnson said working with current Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell left a mark on him.

Former guard CJ Walker served as a leader and allowed the then-first-year to learn as well, Johnson said. He benefited from watching a veteran like Walker average 30 minutes per game and having junior forward E.J. Liddell provide an ultra-competitor mindset, while also being someone to talk to.

“I feel like Meechie has always had the same mentality since he was a freshman in high school,” Liddell said. “I watched him drop 40 points as a freshman in high school. Just learning from CJ Walker and learning the college game, I feel like he’ll be really good.”

Watching film on NBA players like Russell, Portland Trail Blazers forward Damian Lillard and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is among Johnson’s daily activities, he said. He said he watches between one and two hours of basketball video to see things he doesn’t when on the court.

Johnson said the pace of the game has slowed down and his buy-in to strength and conditioning increased. Incoming graduate transfer guard Jamari Wheeler said he’s noticed Johnson’s basketball IQ through his hard work, and graduate forward Kyle Young is impressed by it.

“He really should be a freshman, so it’s impressive, the jump he was able to make last year and contribute to what we were doing,” Young said. “Excited to see what he can do this year.”

With his first full season as a Buckeye on the horizon, Johnson said he had to grow up fast as he reflected on his still-young career.

Ohio State opens its season Nov. 9 and has its first exhibition game just eight days prior, and Johnson said he wants to make an impact on an Ohio State team with his show-me-don’t-tell-me mindset.

“I believe in myself, I believe in my craft and I believe in my game,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really able to show that much. You see me come in, hit a couple three’s last year. There’s a lot more that I can do. I just want to do everything I can to help this team win.”

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