Likely one-and-done Johnson ‘won’t take a backseat’ at Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag when it came to the skills of Arizona incoming freshman Stanley Johnson, but who is fooling whom?
"Then I would be spilling the beans," Hollis-Jefferson said with his signature smile. "I’m not into spilling the beans. He’s a great athlete and he likes to play hard."
That would be made to order for Arizona and a close image to former Arizona star Aaron Gordon. They both can run, jump and play basketball. Each has solid skills, with Gordon eventually selected in June’s NBA Draft at No. 4.
"Both are very well spoken and come across as articulate and intelligent," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "Stanley and Aaron are that."
But who is Hollis-Jefferson kidding? Who hasn’t seen Johnson in what amounts to a human highlight tape via YouTube videos? He’s finished nearly every dunk imaginable and has the court sense coaches dream of, possessing talent that is beyond belief with a college-game-ready body.
But what Johnson’s teammates talked about most at Arizona’s media day on Friday was Johnson’s desire to win. Gordon had that same thirst. It was win or else.
"I love to win; that’s why I came to school here," said Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward. "I thought we have the tools to win and the people that are here love to win as well. I think winning is an attribute. It’s a mentality and it comes with competitiveness."
Four state championships at Mater Dei High School (former home of Miles Simon, Reggie Geary and others Arizona alums) and a few gold medals at the world games is proof positive.
"Everywhere he’s been he’s won," Miller said. "He has a lot of those characteristics you want in a winner."
As Miller said, "he doesn’t take a back seat" to anyone. Gordon may have last year. But don’t expect to see Johnson do so this season in what could be his one and only year at Arizona — just like Gordon a year ago.
But first, Johnson said, let the season begin and end and then he will see.
"I haven’t played one game or scored one point," he said. "You can’t tell me what I’m going to do (in the future). Obviously, it’s good to have that kind of press of one-and-done. But I haven’t scored one point and I don’t know what I’m going to do."
Still, as Arizona gets ready for what is expected to be another deep run for an NCAA title, the affable, ultra-talented Johnson appears born for these moments of big-time basketball at a major college.
"Man," he said, "I wish I could call it like that. My parents did a good job with me. I think I’m level-headed."
And unbelievably talented. He was named MaxPreps national player of the year, a Parade All-American and a USA Today All-USA first-team player last season. He helped lead the United States to gold medals in the FIBA America Championships three consecutive years, and was named the MVP in his last stint with the U18s.
How talented is he?
"The natural ability the guy has …" said Damon Stoudamire, a former Arizona All-American turned assistant coach, "and I’m talking natural ability that compares to (former Arizona player) Brian Williams. I always thought Brian had that. You saw that once he walked through the doors."
Stoudamire sees that in Johnson, a basketball prodigy who handles himself well on and off the court.
"I’d say that Stanley Johnson is going to be one of those guys, where once people see him, will say, ‘He’s one of the best players talent-wise to walk through here,’" said Stoudamire, arguably one of the top five players to play at Arizona. "Let’s remember that doesn’t have anything to do with productivity (right now) but I think he will be. But talent? I’d put him up there to be one of the top two or three talents to come to Arizona all-time."
He’s in a man’s body right now, Stoudamire said. But, improvement must be made — jump shot, defense and maturity.
"How fast will he be able to grasp things?" Stoudamire said. "That’s going to be the big thing."
Johnson says he’s ready, talking to Miller often to know how and what needs to be worked on. What type of mentality he has to have to succeed like he did in high school and in summer play.
"I’ve been ready for this moment," he said. "Now that I’m here, I feel like I’m ahead of schedule where I want to be personally."
How it all comes together this season will be determined, but Hollis-Jefferson likes what he sees because they play against each other plenty.
"He’s one of the best of the best," he said, eventually spilling the beans.
How do you guard Johnson?
"You can’t," he said.