No one ever questioned the talent level of Markell Johnson.
The Cleveland native was a highly recruited 4-star guard out of high school, but with Dennis Smith Jr.’s commitment to NC State, Johnson was forced into a backup role in his first season with the Wolfpack.
Behind Smith, Johnson still averaged over 20 minutes per game. He showcased great hustle and elite-level court vision, and was a breath of fresh air on a team that was often sluggish and at times selfish.
A lot changed last year, and nearly all of it was in favor or Markell. Gottfried was fired, Dennis Smith Jr went pro, Terry Henderson wasn’t awarded his 6th year, and Kevin Keatts was brought in to completely change the program.
This left Johnson in a position where, even as a sophomore, he was the only guard with experience at NC State. This made him a focal point for Kevin Keatts. If Keatts was going to succeed, he’d need Markell Johnson to be one of the best PGs in the ACC. The good news was that his system was almost a perfect fit for Johnson’s skill-set.
After an early legal scare, Markell came back and quickly became a high-impact player for Keatts.
Johnson averaged 9.3 points and 7.3 assists per game. Those numbers put him in some high company amongst Wolfpack point guards. His 7.3 assists actually led the entire ACC and he finished 3rd nationally in assists per game.
So the question everyone is asking is, what will he do for an encore?
We caught up with Markell at media day, but he didn’t want to talk too much about himself. Instead, he wanted to talk about his team and their goals.
“Our expectations are to win every game.” Johnson said.
To win this season NC State is going to have to not only rely on the talented junior, but also the group of guards behind him.
With the loss of Abu, Freeman, and Yurtseven, NC State is going to be forced to rely heavily on those guards
“We’ve got a lot of guards. We’re going to get out and run as much as we can. Get up and down, play defense” Johnson said. “We just have to find out who can play with who. A lot of different lineups because there are a lot of guards on the court this year.”
And if you’re wondering what Markell thinks of having so many guys backing him up this season?
“I love it. I’m a guard. I like playing fast. I’m going to have other guards running with me now. It’ll be fun.”
But it will also be competitive. Something Johnson isn’t shying away from.
“(More guards) means more competition in practice. But we need that. With a long season ahead of us it’s definitely good for us to have the guards we have.”
As for Keatts, just like last year, Johnson is going to be his key to success. However, this year he feels he’s more equipped to take on that role, both mentally and pysically.
“When you see Markell you’ll notice some extra bulk on him.” Keatts said. “He’s grown up a lot. At the beginning of last season, there was a lot he needed to work on. He’s become a better student, he’s popular around campus now and he’s done a great job of talking more with his teammates on the court.”
NC State Signee Jalen Lecque Goes Undrafted, Signs UDFA Deal with Suns
Point Guard Jalen Lecque, who was an NC State 2019 signee that opted for the NBA Draft instead of attending school in Raleigh in the Fall, didn’t hear his name called last night in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Despite going undrafted, the Phoenix Suns signed the athletic phenom to a 4-year Undrafted Free Agent Contract, with 2 years guaranteed.
Lecque was a 4-Star prospect out of Brewster Academy, ranked 40th nationally by Rivals and 247.
The high flyer committed to NC State back on October 2nd, submitted his paperwork for NBA eligibility on April 2nd, and fully declared for the Draft on May 29th.
This obviously didn’t go the way Lecque would have ultimately liked, but a guaranteed two-year contract gives reason for optimism.
I still stand on the premise that Lecque would have benefited from a year of college, and likely would have been a lottery pick next year.
NCAA to Move 3-Point Line Back to International Distance
When NC State played in the 2019 National Invitational Tournament, there were a variety of experimental rules put in place. One of those was moving the 3-Point line back 1 foot, 8 inches, which is the distance used by the FIBA (International Basketball Federation).
The NCAA considered the experiment successful, and recently approved a rule change to move the arch back to 22 feet and 1¾ inches. This rule will be implemented at the start of the 2019-20 season.
Senior Wolfpack Point Guard Markell Johnson had no problem shooting it from further back, hitting 9-17 (52.9%) in the Wolfpack’s 3 games in the NIT.
As a team, NC State shot 33.3% from the new standard, which was slightly under their season average of 35.3%.
NC State’s Torin Dorn Worked Out for the Hornets Yesterday
Former NC State Wing Torin Dorn worked out for the Charlotte Hornets yesterday.
Yesterday’s workout was technically Dorn’s first pre-draft team workout, but he did participate in an agent pro day in Phoenix two weeks ago. Dorn also played well in the Portsmouth Invitational at the end of April.
I would be shocked to see Dorn drafted, but workouts like these could help him get an invite to the NBA Summer League or get a G-League contract.
NC State Men’s Basketball to Host Wisconsin in Big Ten-ACC Challenge
RALEIGH, N.C. – The NC State men’s basketball team will host Wisconsin in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the league announced on Thursday.
The game is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4. Tip-time and broadcast information will be released later.
The match-up will be the fourth all-time between the two programs. Wisconsin has won all three previous meetings, including last season’s game in Madison, Wis., 79-75. Markell Johnson led the Pack with a then-career-high 21 points in defeat.
NC State returns six of its top-seven scorers from last season’s 24-12 team.
Wisconsin returns six of its top-eight scorers from last season’s 23-11 team.
Additional opponents and dates for the 2019-20 season will be announced at a later date.