CHICAGO – After Mater Dei High School won the California state Open Division championship Saturday, the Monarchs retreated to their Sacramento, Calif., hotel for a late-night dinner and celebration.
By the time it was over, Stanley Johnson had maybe two hours to sleep. He then awoke at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago, where he worked out with the McDonald’s All-American West team Sunday afternoon.
“He just won a state championship and then he shows up for practice?” says West coach Frank Allocco, who coached UA freshman Elliott Pitts at De La Salle HS. “Some guys would use that as an excuse and not practice. He was the first guy out there.”
It was no surprise for Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who is also in Chicago to receive a lifetime achievement award before Wednesday’s McDonalds All-American Game.
“He was very focused on (the championship), and his dream was always to play in the McDonalds game,” McKnight said today, “The two big games: McDonalds and Jordan” Brand Classic.
Johnson is barging into the McDonalds Game not just off a state title but his fourth straight state title – while showcasing an increasing number of skills that should help him make an immediate impact with the Arizona Wildcats next season.
“As a freshman he played center, as a sophomore, he played forward, as a junior he played shooting guard and as a senior he played point guard,” McKnight said. “It’s only going to help him down the road, as he goes to college and the pros to handle the ball.”
“Stanley is extremely intelligent when it comes to basketball. He’ll be a great coach. His mother (former pro Karen Taylor) coached him all the way through youth and she’s a good coach. He will be a very good coach someday.”
Of course, he won’t be coaching anytime soon. But Johnson’s personality could also help him bring teams together on the floor.
“He’s going to be a high impact player because of his talent, but more important because of his infectious personality, what a great teammate he is,” Allocco said. “He’s just won guys over.”
A canceled flight Monday afternoon kept me from reaching this morning's media interviews to speak with Johnson -- our plane was ferried into the Tucson airport hangar and never returned -- but I hope to speak with him Wednesday, before or after the McDonald's game. I will also have coverage of the game itself.
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