Arizona Wildcats’ target Johnson matches skill level with mental approachby Javier Morales on Jul. 26, 2013, under Sports
RELATED LINK AT WILDABOUTAZCATS.net: Arizona Wildcats target top Class of 2015 prospect Ivan Rabb
LAS VEGAS — With the game having no shot clock and more motion than usual for an AAU game, Oakland Soldiers wing player Stanley Johnson — one of the prized recruits from the Class of 2014 — did not allow the pace to throw him off his steady style against Texas Team Elite.
Johnson managed 13 points, which is low by his standards, but he played under control, not allowing the game to frustrate him. His high basketball IQ was obvious in the way that he handled the ball as a 6-foot-7 point forward and got his teammates involved instead of trying to force a quicker tempo.
“They also threw a 2-3 zone at us,” Johnson told me, incredulously after the Soldiers beat Team Texas Elite 71-64 at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas. “With that zone and no shot clock, that kind of ruined things. I’d rather play in transition.
“But I played well, maybe not as well as I’m accustomed to, but I thought it went well because we won.”
The Soldiers played in front of a group of elite college coaches that included Arizona’s Sean Miller, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Cal’s Mike Montgomery. The lack of the shot clock in the Las Vegas Classic probably takes Pitino and Montgomery back to their early college coaching careers.
Pitino and Montgomery had their sights on other players, including Johnson’s Class of 2015 teammate, Ivan Rabb, a 6-9 star post player in the making. Miller watched Rabb, of Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, intently as well. Rabb finished with a team-high 20 points. Elijah Thomas, a Class of 2015 center for Team Texas Elite, is also attracting attention from Arizona and other top-flight programs.
The most impressive aspect of Johnson’s game is his straightforward style on the court and ability to limit his mistakes. In one sequence after gathering a loose ball, Johnson had a breakaway. Instead of trying a reverse slam or a windmill dunk, he attacked the basket with a simple one-handed jam. Nothing wrong with that.
It’s obvious that he is a gym rat and that he studies the game because he is calculating with his passes and the way he reads his defender. He benefits from playing for the highly-successful Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei program that produced two of Arizona’s most heady players — Miles Simon and Reggie Geary.
“Miles is a really good person to look up to,” Johnson told me about Arizona’s Final Four MVP in the Wildcats’ 1997 NCAA championship run. “I really look up to him, and I talk to him all of the time.”
Simon, also a former UA assistant and current ESPN analyst, is coaching the California Supreme in the Las Vegas Classic at Spring Valley High School. Geary coached a Japanese professional team to a league title there this season. Basketball is in the brain at Mater Dei. Johnson is another example.
“He is a different type of kid,” Oakland Soldiers coach Jules Milstead told me about Johnson. “I haven’t seen a kid like that with his motor, his basketball IQ, with his ability in the open floor, and with his body control.”
Keep in mind Milstead coached Arizona signee Aaron Gordon, a former member of the Oakland Soldiers who garnered five-star status from all recruiting publications. Milstead coached Gordon from the eighth grade to his final AAU season last summer. He has coached Johnson since Johnson was also in the eighth grade.
“He has the total package,” Milstead continued about Johnson. “Whatever college he goes to will not only benefit from his physical attributes but his mental one as well.
“I’ve watched his progress and he’s come a long way. He has a goal that he wants to be the best player in the country. By the end of the year, he’ll have a real good shot at that.”
Milstead is not an overzealous AAU coach trying to hype his player. He does not have to market Johnson, whose talent is well-known by Miller, Donovan, Mike Krzyzewski and other coaches in hot pursuit. Johnson told me he has narrowed his list to eight schools: Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Kentucky, UCLA, USC, Kansas and Duke.
Arizona will be one of his official visits along with Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky and Florida. He is slated to take his official trip to Tucson when the Wildcats play their Red-Blue Scrimmage in October at McKale Center.
“I’ve been there (the UA campus) before unofficially,” Johnson said. “With this being an official trip, I’ll have to look at it better than what I did before. I know it’s a great campus already.
“I’m taking my visit to show that they are on my list. I can only take so many visits (five officially per NCAA rules).”
Gordon and other former Oakland Soldiers standouts Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson will represent the opportunity Arizona can provide Johnson if he decides to play for Miller.
Although the Wildcats have three alumni who have played in the Oakland Soldiers program, they do not have an edge in Johnson’s recruitment. Milstead pointed out Oregon sophomore guard Dominic Artis also played for the Oakland Soldiers.
Johnson, who has progressed in his career after battling weight issues, told me that he does not pay attention to the publicity he receives from the media or the famous coaches sitting in the stands. Milstead describes Johnson as unselfish, wanting his lesser-known teammates to have the spotlight as his AAU career concludes.
“Stanley told me he could take a step back to let the other guys get noticed here,” Olivier said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. His development is like night and day.
“He was always pretty skilled. He wasn’t really explosive before. He was close to 6-3 and 230 pounds, a little chunky (in the ninth grade). Now he’s grown about three inches, slimmed down and is more aggressive. When he’s on that wing and coming right at you, he’s like LeBron James coming right at you.”
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.