Markell Johnson is more than his four-star rating. He is more than just the top 2017 guard in Ohio. He's more than just a hot commodity for high-majors across the country. Markell Johnson is a trailblazer for Senate League basketball, and more importantly, a breath of fresh air for youth in inner city Cleveland. Set to visit Ohio State on Saturday, you'll want to get to know the 6-foot-2 guard out of Cleveland.
Attending East Technical High School on Cleveland's east side, Johnson is as important to the Senate League as a certain No. 23 is to an organization just 2.5 miles to the west. Racking up several mid-and-high major offers since the end of his freshman year at East Tech, one in which he helped lead the Scarabs to its first Division I state final four in nearly 40 years, Johnson has a certain 'it' factor about him that is hard to explain in words, but you know it when you see it.
"He's special," Dan Urban, a Cleveland basketball aficionado and Johnson's trainer, said of the rising junior's game. "Quick twitch, great balance all the time. I haven't seen a kid jump off two feet and get to the rim faster than Markell. I know that's vague but he just has something special about him. He has a hunger that you don't see very often."
It's that hunger that has helped Johnson blossom into one of the best guards across the Midwest. Adding offers from Arizona State, Florida and Virginia Tech in the last two months, some of the nation's top programs are starting to take notice.
Playing in a high school league that hasn't seen many high major coaches walk into its gyms, Johnson is making an impact on inner city Cleveland basketball that he might not even fully understand.
"Markell is extremely important to the Senate League," Steve Newton, owner and operator of Cleveland-based media group 3rdCoastHoops, said. "Obviously they've always had dominant prospects such as Chet Mason, who was able to win Mr. Basketball, and recent guys like Glenville grads Jimond Ivey and Craig Eubanks over at Akron, but a kid of his stature drawing high major attention could really open up some doors for the inner city schools."
Urban shared similar sentiment about Johnson's impact in the city.
"He's given kids in a similar situation someone to look up to, someone tangible in their own neighborhood that they can relate to," he said. "As for the Senate League, a historical conference, he's given it a new energized feel again in my opinion."
For Johnson, he just wants to be someone that younger kids can learn from.
"I'm just trying to be a role model for kids, letting them know that you can make it from anywhere as long as you keep grinding," he said.
And grinding is all Johnson has done since stepping foot at East Tech in the fall of 2013.
Drawing comparisons to former Shaker Heights and Louisville standout Terry Rozier, now with the Boston Celtics, Johnson is a rarity in a city that has primarily produced big-time wings and big men as of late.
"It's not often you see elite level point guards in Cleveland," Newton said. "Kell has that 'it' factor, he literally wants no one to be better than him and his feel for the game is second to none. He's the hardest working guard I've seen out here since Terry."
Averaging 22.5 points per game as a sophomore on a team with multiple scorers, Johnson is looking to carry the load even more in 2015-16. As new OHSAA enrollment figures drop East Tech from Division I to Division II, the Scarabs and its leader have some lofty goals ahead.
"I just want to lead by example this season and win the Senate League and the Division II state championship," Johnson said.
Slated to take an unofficial visit to Virginia Tech next weekend, Johnson said that he's been hearing from DePaul, Florida and the Hokies most, but said he's more than excited to get down to Columbus this weekend. As Ohio State has been recruiting the 6-foot-2 guard since July, Johnson stressed what an OSU offer would mean to him.
"It would mean a lot since I'm from Ohio and it would give me an opportunity to pick a college from where I'm from," Johnson told Land-Grant Holy Land.
While Johnson comes in at No. 57 in the latest ESPN 2017 rankings, he isn't satisfied.
"I am not a player to sleep on at all," Johnson said. "I would go at it with the top players in the country everyday if I had to."
Check out some highlights of Johnson below, courtesy of Newton and 3rdCoastHoops.