Senior guard Markell Johnson has had quite the journey as a member of the NC State Wolfpack. Johnson entered as the youngest player on the roster in his freshman season and appeared in 30 games with the team.
“I feel like I have grown a lot, from my freshman year not even talking on the court to my senior year wanting to be the loudest one on the court,” Johnson said. “Just being more vocal and learning as the days go on and trying to be the best I can be.”
Johnson returns to the team this season with a new vengeance and more motivation than ever before. Johnson spent the summer determining what direction to take his promising career.
“He’s vocal off the court,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “You ought to hear him in the locker room sometimes. Markell has tried to do a better job of that.”
Last season, Johnson scored 12.6 points per game and dished out 4.2 assists per game as a junior, an impressive feat for a guard that was surrounded by backcourt talent in redshirt senior C.J. Bryce, redshirt junior Devon Daniels and junior Braxton Beverly as well as then-senior Torin Dorn, who could slot into the two.
After watching Johnson drop 26 points, nine assists, six steals and three rebounds in the Pack’s exhibition game against Mount Olive, fans must see that the sky is truly the limit for the talented 6-foot-1 point guard.
Following an impressive junior season, Johnson entered the NBA draft process as an early entrant. Johnson worked out for the Charlotte Hornets and participated in many scrimmages over the course of the draft process, but still was not expected to be selected.
Because of this, Johnson opted out of the NBA draft at the deadline for early-entrant applicants and decided to rejoin NC State for his senior season. Johnson’s choice proved to be a wise one, as then-NC State recruit Jalen Lecque had much more predraft hype than Johnson and still went undrafted, though he did sign a four-year deal with the Phoenix Suns following the draft.
Regardless, Johnson’s experience in the draft process is more valuable than at face value. For starters, Johnson got to receive feedback from NBA head coaches and league executives, who were able to point him in the right direction for his pro career as well as give Johnson knowledge he could apply to his teammates this season.
“One of the main feedbacks I got was that I have to be consistent from start to finish,” Johnson said. “No matter if it’s an exhibition or an ACC game, your outcome of play has to be the same no matter what.”
Not only did his exhibition showing exemplify that Johnson took this information to heart, but it also showed Johnson can continue to put up a dominant season if he continues to apply what he learned through the NBA draft process. With NC State’s roster only housing three point guards following the departure of Blake Harris from the program, Johnson’s importance to the roster cannot be overstated.
“It boosted my confidence a lot,” Johnson said. “From us going to the NIT and to me trying to get to the NBA, getting the feedback, it did nothing but boost my confidence to another level, and coach Keatts just always boosted my confidence and told me it could take my game all the way.”
This year, Johnson has a real chance to leave a lasting impact and legacy to NC State basketball in general. With a solid amount of juniors on the roster, including Beverly, these players will be able to pass down the culture to players and point guards who will be joining the Wolfpack’s program in the future, such as four-star recruit Cam Hayes from Greensboro Day School.
Johnson’s game has become more all-around and complete this season, as evidenced immediately with the nine assists he recorded in the Pack’s exhibition game. Johnson led NC State last season in assists with 4.2, and that number figures to jump this year.
While already being ranked 10th all-time in NC State total assists with 397, Johnson is just five behind Nate McMillan and six behind Cat Barber. Johnson has a real chance to jettison into the top five all-time for the Wolfpack, near the likes of Sidney Lowe, Lorenzo Brown and Clyde Austin.
“He was locked in today, and that’s great to see,” Keatts said following the exhibition game. “When Markell Johnson plays for 40 minutes, he’s one of the best guards in the country. He’s got to stay consistent. He’s accepted a different role; he’s more of a leader now. We’re hoping to get that every game.”
The athletic point guard also ranks 26th all-time in steals for NC State, as well as seventh all-time for assist-to-turnover ratio. Johnson’s legacy on this team will be forever underrated, but a real run this year would cement him as one of the best guards to come through the program as well as one of the best point guards in the nation this season, setting the Pack up for success for years to come.
“Whatever role coach gives me, I try to embrace it,” Johnson said. “We just have to do everything right, and everything else will take care of itself.”
NC State fans will get to watch Johnson embark on his final season as a member of the Wolfpack when the team returns to PNC Arena in its home opener against Georgia Tech. The game is on Nov. 5, and tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. It will be available to stream on ACC Network.