Ohio State Commit Marcus Johnson Awarded 2023-24 OH Hoops Player of the Year


This season, Ohio State commit Marcus Johnson averaged 23.1 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game on 50% from the field and 39% from three-point range, leading Garfield Heights to a 25-2 record overall and earning Division I All-Ohio Player of the Year, in addition to All-Ohio First Team honors for the second straight season.

 “It’s a blessing from God,” Johnson said of being named the 2023-24 OH Hoops Player of the Year. “I put in a lot of hard work and dedication to the game of basketball, so getting those awards is a blessing for me. It’s making me keep going even more.”

 “It’s exciting,” added Sonny Johnson Sr., his father and coach. “Not only is it exciting because he’s my son, it’s exciting because of the work that he puts in. You always want to see a kid get rewarded for the work they put in.”

Every day, Marcus Johnson pushes himself on his own accord.

Early mornings to late nights, getting shots up, lifting, improving his agility — any way he can get better, he will do it.

“A lot of people see the success that I have, the accomplishments that I have, but they don’t know how hard I work,” Marcus said in an exclusive sit-down interview at Garfield Heights High School in early Aprill. “I probably work three times, four times a day. Sometimes two-a-days, sometimes three-a-days. I put a lot on my body and I work hard.”

The future Ohio State Buckeye and highly-touted five-star prospect aspires to be great, and nobody, not even Sonny, has to say a word about what needs to be done to achieve that.

“I didn’t have to tell him to do it,” Sonny said in another interview at the school. “You usually have kids where you’ve gotta make ’em get up and workout, make ’em shoot, make ’em set up. He sets up his own workouts. For example, yesterday he set up his basketball workout and then he set up his pool workout and then he set up a strength-and-conditioning workout. And then when he was done with that, he came back that night and shot 500 jumpers.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody because basketball is in his DNA.

“The Johnson bloodline is the example,” Sonny Sr. said.

Julius “Juby” Johnson, his eldest uncle, played for four years at Miami of Ohio as an All-MAC Team member in his upperclass seasons, ranking third in school history in total minutes (3.914) and ninth in win shares (11.0).

Juby put together an impressive, decade-long international pro hoops career in Croatia, France, Greece, Ukraine and Spain. He boasts multiple championships with different teams across the pond.

Demetrius “Meechie” Johnson, Sonny Sr. and Juby’s youngest brother, won a Division II state championship at Warrensville Heights High School as a freshman and returned to the title game as a senior. He took that momentum into Kent State and Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne from 2003-08. As a senior, he was second in the Summit League in assists average (5.7) and scored a career-high 8.2 points per game for the Mastodons. He, too, played professionally in Slovenia.

Post-career, after assisting Sonny Sr. for 13 years at Garfield Heights, Demetrius returned to his alma mater one year ago to become a head coach for the first time. In his debut season, the Tigers went from 4-19 to 18-7, winning a district and appearing in the DII regionals for the first time since 2020. Demetrius was named Northeast Lakes District Division II Coach of the Year.

His son Meechie Johnson Jr. is coming off his second NCAA Tournament appearance. Even with South Carolina falling to Oregon in the first round, Meechie showed out in Pittsburgh in front of friends and family who made the short trip to watch, dropping 24 points on 9-for-16 from the field on national television.

“Man, it’s amazing. That’s my big brother, so seeing him playing in March Madness, it’s great,” Marcus said of his talented cousin.

As the team’s floor general for the last two seasons, Meechie burst onto the scene and helped lead the Gamecocks to a 26-8 record after an 11-21 showing the previous year — just like his father did at Warrensville Heights.

It’s now been announced that Meechie will be returning to The Ohio State University too via the transfer portal, back to where he began his college career and closer to home once again. And of course, younger sisters Aniyah and Naudia and little brother Noah are aspiring to follow in those footsteps.

Sonny Sr. is the oldest of the three Johnson brothers and their two sisters, Celina and Charity.*

Decades before Marcus, Sonny Sr. starred at Garfield Heights for his father and coach, William Jones Johnson. In 1998, among many other accolades, Sonny Sr. won Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award as a senior.

“That’s one thing I can hold over his head,” Sonny Sr. joked about Marcus with a wry smile. “Yes, I was Mr. Basketball and he’s not Mr. Basketball, and that’s one thing that he don’t have that I have.”

Sonny Sr. would be the first of his siblings to play Division I basketball, spending two solid seasons at Cleveland State before transferring to Ohio University and breaking out further in the Mid-American Conference as a highly impactful sixth man for the Bobcats. He faced off against high-profile competition, including Juby, Chet Mason and a collection of future NBA players at powerhouse schools.

Nowadays, Sonny Sr. is the head coach at Garfield Heights and the founder of NEO Youth Elite, two powerhouse programs that develop young players on and off the court. Since 2004, Sonny has helped train more than 20 players who’ve made it to the D-I level and, beyond that, opened paths for many more of the club’s alumni to get to the collegiate stage.

Among that company — Meechie is one of many notable names — is the next generation of Johnson hoopers.

Sonny Johnson Jr., the oldest of Sonny Sr.’s four children, is currently at Detroit-Mercy in the Horizon League. Unfortunately due to two hip surgeries, he hasn’t been able to suit up for the Titans just yet.

Marcus is up next, taking after his older brother and sister Serena, who started at Cornerstone Christian and finished her high school career at Lutheran East last year. The youngest of the bunch, Mia, is a multi-sport athlete in basketball and volleyball.

And we can’t forget about the potential of Mason Broyles, Celina’s son who has drawn eyeballs nationally as a middle-schooler. His father Dwayne Broyles was a four-year standout at James Madison after a great career at Canton McKinley; Dwayne won three championships as a pro in Belgium.

Best believe that the buck won’t stop there. It’ll go on for generations to come.

“The bloodline is strong as far as what we like to do, and that’s ball,” Sonny Sr. said.

Marcus was on a plethora of Division I college radars, but ultimately settled on The Ohio State University last Wednesday night. Having only finished his sophomore campaign, he’s ranked 12th in ESPN’s Class of 2026. Two weekends ago in Arizona, he participated in Team USA’s Junior National Team minicamp as he continues to grind away.

“Basketball runs in the family, so it motivates me just to work hard every day and make my family proud,” Marcus said. “Really just put my head down and keep working. Don’t worry about the rankings, the social media. Just put my head down, keep getting better and working every day with my trainers.”

“I think it comes from him wanting to be great,” Sonny Sr. added. “And honestly, it comes from somebody who loves the game… I think he’s had the spotlight since they was ranking ’em — it sounds bad — the No. 1 second-grader in the country. Coming up since second grade. You hear that going all the way up. He’s been on the radar since he was in second grade and everywhere he played, he always had to perform. So I think that prepared him for moments like this.”

It’s been a difficult year for Marcus and his loved ones with the passing of Pastor William Jones Johnson Jr. last April, but his legacy lives on through his children and grandchildren.

“We’ve got a close family,” Sonny Sr. said. “My father was an unbelievable man, just a great person to be around. I know our whole family mourns the death of my dad because he was an impactful person throughout our whole entire family.”

“Losing my granddad, that was tough,” Marcus said. “I never lost somebody that close to me. So losing my granddad was very emotional for me and my family. It just made me go even harder.”

Marcus shares that every game he played this season was dedicated to his late grandfather. Sonny Sr. could proudly see that as well, but “more importantly, he wanted to do it for himself too because it’s something he loves to do.”

William not only instilled the Johnson’s love for the game in them, but above all else, he spread the word of God to the family and touched countless lives. It’s something that Marcus carries with him.

“God led me through the hard times of my life, so him just being there for me every step of the way is big time for me and my family,” Marcus said.

Sonny Sr. explained further why faith is so important.

“Without God, you have nothing. Everything we have is because of God’s favor,” Sonny Sr. said. “People might say, ‘Oh Marcus, you’re a great basketball player. Oh Sonny, you’re a great coach.’ We know who we are, but we’re humble because we know any minute, God can take that away from you. Once you start thinking it’s about you, that’s when you fail.

“But once you continue knowing that God’s put you on this pedestal and God is giving you his opportunity to be successful and God is giving you that gift, you will never fail. That’s one thing: We will never, never stop giving God the glory and stop thanking God for the favor he blessed on not just me and my son, but our entire family.”

Like William did for him, Sonny Sr. has passed down the word of God to Marcus and all of his student-athletes. It’s a message that has resonated a great deal.

“At the end of the day, I try to plant seeds that will last a lifetime,” Sonny Sr. said. “When they’re out of my care and they’re out of their parents’ care, they’re about to go to college, they’re about to go in the real world. Some of the kids are graduating. You’re gonna go through tough times and hard times. How do you handle the tough times and the hard times? You handle it by having somebody you can always count on, and that’s God.

“So at the end of the day if you’ve got God beside your side, who you know you can pray to and come to when things get tough, when you’re on your own, then you’re always gonna find a way to be successful, you’re gonna always find a way to get over the hump and you’re gonna always turn out on the right side.”

Asked about a favorite game of the season, Marcus points to a star-studded matchup on Dec. 29, 2023 at the NEO Youth Elite Christmas Classic in front of college scouts and coaches. Top-ranked Garfield Heights defeated No. 2 Richmond Heights 60-57 in a battle between teams lined with premier talent.

“A lot of D-1’s on the court,” said Marcus, whose teammates (Deandre Jones and Carter Jackson) and opponents (TJ Crumble, De’Erick Barber, Dorian Jones and Demarris Winters Jr.) have committed to/drawn heavy interest from D-1 schools. “High matchup, high game, high intensity. That was a fun game to play.”

Pose the same question to Sonny Sr. and he’ll point to Marcus’ performance at Flyin’ To The Hoop in Dayton. The savvy scoring southpaw had a 40-point game in a 68-67 double-overtime victory over Faith Family Academy, a back-to-back-to-back state title winner and top-tier program in Texas.

“To play like that on that type of stage on both ends of the floor was just impressive,” Sonny Sr. said. “It was great because against those teams that we competed against, he performed at a high level. He can only get better by competing against the best, and that’s what we try to do is to round us, make sure our program is one of the top programs in the state. We try to make sure we’re competing against the top talent, and not just top talent — top talent that’s college prospects.”

“Big-time stage and I performed at a high level,” Marcus added. “My teammates trusted me, the coaches, so I just went out there and played how I play.”

Though the team’s season ended in a controversial loss to Toledo Whitmer in the state regional finals, Garfield Heights made plenty of memories along the way. Sonny Sr. shouted out that senior group one by one for the part they played for the Bulldogs.

Sonny Sr. considers CJ Little “one of the biggest winners I’ve ever had in my coaching career,” noting his tenacity on defense and wanting to guard. Corey Wilson did everything the squad needed him to do and has “the biggest heart.”

Jackson, a St. Ignatius transfer, unfortunately was sidelined due to injury late in the season, but fit right in and provided another scoring presence. And simply put, Jones is “the ultimate competitor.”

Marcus appreciates each of them on and off the basketball court.

“They’re my boys for life,” said Marcus, who noted their help and advice in practice. “It was sad the way the season ended, but them just trusting me, telling me to be aggressive, telling me to just keep going no matter what. They know a lot of people try to come after me. Them motivating me just to go out there and be myself, making me better makes them better too.”

Sonny Sr. wholeheartedly agrees.

“They shaped him because they’re competitors. When you’re around winners, you become a winner no matter what,” Sonny Sr. said. “It’s a pleasure to have a kid like Marcus, who does not act like a sophomore, and has the mentality of being a senior like those guys when it comes down to competing and playing. But those guys, you couldn’t be around them and not be competitors. So that’s the good thing, and he soaked it all in just having fun riding with his guys.”

A perfect example of a time where Marcus showed his maturity and leadership was after a 68-55 win vs. Western Reserve Academy. He had scored 26 points in the game and was awarded the game’s MVP postgame. Yet, in the locker room, Marcus presented his trophy to Jones, who recorded a 25-point, 10-rebound double-double.

“For life, they’re my brothers,” Marcus said. “My job as a point guard is to make the team happy, make the coaches happy and win. I feel like he deserved it that day and I gave it to him.”

“What it means is he’s not about himself, he’s about the team,” Sonny Sr. added. “That was a joyful moment because when somebody gives you an award or something like that, that’s all good, but Deandre deserved that award that game. Marcus deserved it too, but for him to give it to Deandre knowing Deandre had an unbelievable game on a big stage like that was why this team was a really good team and why we were successful.”

As a point guard, Marcus’ unselfishness and ability to get buckets stand out above all else to the public. But the biggest step he made this season came on the other end of the floor. Thanks to a tip from Little, he began utilizing his lengthy frame to disrupt ball-handlers and passing lanes.

“I always wanted to be a two-way player, offensive and defensive player,” Marcus said. “There’s a lot of players that can score the ball but don’t really play defense. I want to be both.”

“He played defense last year, but this time it seemed like he enjoyed it as a sophomore. He’s only gonna get better when he’s a junior and a senior,” Sonny Sr. added. “But I mean, he loves to compete. He’s a competitor. He don’t back down from challenges. He took a lot of the load for us this year offensively. Towards the end of the year, we had games where he had to defend the best guys. He steps up for challenges for sure.”

Neither Marcus nor Sonny Sr. takes their special father-son, coach-player relationship for granted. Akin to Sonny Sr.’s experience with William all those years ago, it’s unique and a blessing for both of them.

“His biggest inspiration comes from within himself. When I say that, that’s what he loves to do,” Sonny Sr added. “God first and then himself. He wants to be great. And if you want to be great, you do what great people do to be successful, and that’s what he’s done. He’s a confident kid. That’s the way we raised him, to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. On that court, he better believe in himself because that’s what we expect of him.”

“God’s favor,” Marcus said.

William’s tribute: https://twitter.com/sonnyjohnson32/status/1650533509176467459
Johnson’s training: https://twitter.com/sonnyjohnson32/status/1112020407371157507?lang=en
Game vs. Faith Family: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwkrHAXAlKA
Moment with Deandre: https://twitter.com/sonnyjohnson32/status/1745135599839793207