ANAHEIM, Calif. — In the end, Stanley Johnson was a “shoe-in” for the UA Wildcats.
After receiving three years of heavy recruiting attention from Sean Miller and his UA staff, the five-star wing from Mater Dei High School chose to play basketball at Arizona over Kentucky and USC on Friday.
How he did so was fitting for a high school senior with two big interests: Basketball and shoes.
While team hats, jerseys and shirts are the usual props used by today’s top recruits when they announce a college choice, a tie-clad Johnson beamed before an ESPNU audience when he pulled out a pair of customized Jordan 3 White Cements that were painted in red and blue and had a large Arizona “A” on each tongue.
Johnson was wearing the sneakers an hour later, with a blue “CATS” sock under one and a red “CATS” sock under another, when he appeared before a small group of media at a sports training facility in Anaheim.
By then, he had also replaced his tie and dress shirt with an Arizona basketball tee.
But he never did shut down that wide grin.
“I could go on forever about why I chose Arizona,” Johnson said. “Coach Miller is a great coach, a proven coach … the things I need to work on, he’s good at. My weaknesses are his strengths, and I think he can motivate me on and off the court.
“There’s a bunch of things. But the best thing for me is playing for a genuine coach like Coach Miller.”
A 6-foot-6-inch wing forward who is rated No. 9 nationally by ESPNU, Johnson said he specifically wants to improve his shooting and other perimeter skills. He said he’s already been impressed how UA coaches have helped improve the shooting of Wildcat freshman Aaron Gordon, a former teammate of Johnson’s on the Oakland Soldiers travel team.
“I think shooting is the big thing,” Johnson said. “You can see it with Aaron, what (UA) has done for his jump shot. That’s going to make him a top NBA draft pick this year and I think maybe it’ll make me a top draft pick one day.”
Johnson had long been considered an Arizona lean, but he headed into the fall recruiting period with a full slate of scheduled visits. He saw what his mother, Karen Taylor, called “big time basketball” during a visit to Kentucky. And he was tempted by USC, which wasn’t far from his Fullerton home and had a new up-tempo-minded coach in Andy Enfield.
But the Trojans couldn’t catch up. Not when, the way Johnson put it, Arizona was still running faster.
USC “is gonna be great,” Johnson said. “But the fact is that the time was put in (by Arizona) and even if I started my process over when (Enfield) got the job, Arizona still outworked everybody on my list.”
So, after visiting Arizona for its Red-Blue Game on Oct. 12 and taking some final, unofficial looks at nearby USC, Johnson called off a planned visit to Oregon and his original plan of choosing a school in January.
He had seen enough. So had his mother, a former standout player at Jackson State and in Europe professional leagues.
“They did a great job and treated us like family,” Taylor said. “I felt like he was at home. Different situations — dinner with the team, dinner with Coach Miller — and we saw the crazy crowd around the whole building (for the Red-Blue Game). It was like madness at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was awesome.”
Johnson is not only the first high-profile Mater Dei player to choose Arizona under Miller, he’s also what Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said is his best player ever at the school.
But while Johnson gives the Wildcats a capstone for their 2014 class, McKnight indicated the benefits are mutual.
“I think Stanley’s in a good situation,” McKnight said. “He’s close to home and surrounded by a lot of good people. Joe (Pasternack, UA associate head coach) worked really hard and so did Sean. They did a really good job.”
Arizona’s efforts helped pull in what will likely be their sixth high school all-American in the three most recent recruiting classes, including 2012 signees Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley as well as 2013 additions Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
After Johnson made his announcement Friday, Scout.com moved Arizona’s 2014 class ranking up to No. 3, while ESPN moved the Wildcats up from 26 to No. 8.
Arizona has four players so far in the class of 2014, one at nearly every position: Johnson, point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright of Los Angeles Loyola High School, combo guard Kadeem Allen of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, and power forward Craig Victor of Las Vegas’ Findlay Prep.
Victor signed his letter-of-intent on Wednesday, while Allen did so with his mother on Friday, according to Hutchinson assistant coach Jay Cyriac.
Jackson-Cartwright said he will sign his letter today with his father, who has been traveling and unavailable this week.
McKnight said he wasn’t sure when Johnson would actually sign, but there was no doubt where Johnson’s loyalties were Friday.
They were on his feet, in what Johnson now proudly calls his “Arizona Cement 3s.”
“I said it before if I feel a school is right, I was going to pull the trigger,” Johnson said. “This was one of those situations.”
|Name||Position||Height, weight||School||Hometown||ESPNU rank|
|Stanley Johnson||SF||6-6, 220||Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, Calif.)||Fullerton, Calif.||9|
|Craig Victor||PF||6-7, 205||Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)||New Orleans||29|
|Parker Jackson-Cartwright||PG||5-8, 150||Loyola HS (Los Angeles)||Los Angeles||60|
|Kadeem Allen||G||6-3, 185||Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College||Wilmington||Unranked|