BuckeyeGrove - With guard depth lacking, can Ohio State count on Meechie Johnson?
{{ timeAgo('2021-01-13 13:00:00 -0600') }} basketball Edit

With guard depth lacking, can Ohio State count on Meechie Johnson?

The phrase “next man up” has been a banal part of every coach’s repertoire since the beginning of time.

We’ve seen it used endlessly by programs at every level in the face of the constant threat of COVID-19. There always has to be a replacement ready to go, because you never know when injury or illness will strike.

But what about when that next man up has only practiced for a week and should still be enjoying his final semester of high school?

Enter Meechie Johnson.

“I don’t think we anticipated that he could be counted on as much as he is right now. You have to be careful with a young man’s confidence at this point,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of Johnson on Tuesday. “Now, he’s a really confident kid, which helps, but it’s just a lot to throw at him.”

Johnson, a freshman guard from Garfield Heights, joined the Buckeyes in early November after transfer Abel Porter was ruled medically unable to play.

With two experienced point guards in front of him in Jimmy Sotos and C.J. Walker, this was supposed to be a developmental year for Ohio State’s lead guard of the future, who was still recovering from a torn ACL at the beginning of his junior year of high school.

Holtmann wanted to slowly work the 18-year old into college shape and maybe toss a few game minutes his way when opportunities arose.

Then, Walker went down with torn ligaments in his hand. Sotos replaced the senior, but suffered a shoulder injury diving on the floor in his first start, leaving his status unclear for the immediate future.

Ohio State Point Guard Options
Name Experience Last year Status against NU

Meechie Johnson

Reclassified freshman

DNP for Garfield Heights HS (knee)

Available

Abel Porter

Graduate

Utah State

OUT (medical condition)

Jimmy Sotos

Transfer junior

Bucknell

OUT (shoulder)

C.J. Walker

Redshirt senior

Ohio State

OUT (hand)

Those opportunities for Johnson have quickly turned into necessities.

“You’re looking at all options at this point. We talked about such a rare situation with injuries to one specific position, dating back to our summer with Abel,” Holtmann said. “So, I think it’ll require guys to move around to different positions if Jimmy’s not available. We’ll have to have a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

Ohio State split point guard duties against Rutgers on Jan. 9, letting Sotos, Justice Sueing, and Duane Washington initiate most action. Johnson played only four minutes, making little impact but holding things steady when called upon.

RELATED: Ohio State replaces Walker by committee in win over Rutgers

If Sotos-- who played 28 minutes in his first start-- ends up missing significant time, a dangerous hole exists in Holtmann’s rotation.

Johnson is the only legitimate point guard left on the roster.

“We’re talking about a young man who just started live practice a couple times last week, and now you’re asking him to go and play a top-15 team (Rutgers) on the road and a team in Northwestern who’s by all metrics top-25, 30, 40 in the country,” Holtmann said. “It’s a really difficult ask, but I know he’s anxious, he’s looking forward to it.”

As Holtmann noted earlier this season, most incoming freshmen have months to prepare their minds and bodies for the grind of high-major college basketball.

Johnson joined Ohio State two weeks before its season began and had not played at the high school level in over a year.

As one can imagine, there’s a significant difference between the OHSAA and the Big Ten.

Though he’ll probably remain in a limited role, Holtmann needs more than four minutes out of the youngest member of his team.

“I’ve got confidence in Meechie-- it’s a lot to ask of a young man who just joined your program, to step in and play a Big Ten game of this caliber,” Holtmann said. “But we do expect him to play, for sure.”

More than anything else, this is the perfect opportunity for Johnson to lay the groundwork for a very successful career in Columbus.