Small forward Johnson schedules official UK visit during Big Blue Madness

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 14, 2013 

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — College basketball coaches around the country have spent the last couple of years selling their schools to Stanley Johnson.

This one says he has the best fan base, that one says he has the best facilities. They all say they'll make him a better pro.

For Johnson — one of the best prospects in the class of 2014 — the time is getting near when he'll be able to see these schools for himself, and make his own decision on what's best for his future.

No school has set the bar higher than Kentucky.

Johnson recently finalized his plans to take official visits to UK, Arizona, Oregon, Kansas and Florida. The California native will take "unofficial officials" to nearby UCLA and Southern Cal.

The trip to Lexington is planned for Oct. 18, the date of Big Blue Madness.

"I expect the red carpet to be out," Johnson told the Herald-Leader. "That's them at their best. And if that's them at their best I want to see a lot of good things happen. I'm already excited about it because I heard all the fans come out and all the players are juiced. There won't be any opposing fans there so it'll be all love. I'm excited to see what happens."

Johnson says he's keeping an open mind about all seven schools on his list, but many recruiting analysts consider UK and Arizona the two favorites.

John Calipari has clearly made the 6-foot-7 forward a priority. Johnson was one of the first players in the class of 2014 to receive a scholarship offer from Kentucky, and he remains the only small forward with that distinction.

Calipari and UK assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne have been regulars at Johnson's games with the Oakland Soldiers during the spring and summer circuit, including this past week at Peach Jam.

Johnson and the Soldiers won the Nike event last year. With the help of now-Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, the Soldiers defeated Andrew Wiggins and CIA Bounce in the Peach Jam finals.

They didn't advance out of pool play this time, but there was arguably no better player all week than Johnson, who averaged 25.6 points and 10.2 rebounds over five games.

Calipari was there for all of them.

In an interview with the Herald-Leader earlier this spring, Johnson talked about Kentucky as being the "biggest school" on his list. That's a big statement, considering that list also includes UCLA, Kansas and, at the time, Duke.

So what did he mean when he said UK is the "biggest school" he's considering? Johnson elaborated on that Friday night, employing a little hyperbole to make his point.

"I'm talking about, they won the most championships on my list in the last few years," he said. "They seat 30,000. I'm not sure all of the schools on my list combined seat that many. And they have the biggest name. The biggest everything.

"If I tweet #BBN, I'll have 500 retweets. If I tweet #BearDown or #RockChalk or #FightOn, four or five (retweets). The whole fan support at UK is huge."

Is a rabid — maybe even at times smothering — fan base something that interests him?

"Yeah!" he shot back. "I want to be appreciated wherever I go."

Johnson — the No. 8 overall prospect in the class according to Scout.com — will surely get plenty of attention on each of his college visits. He said he was looking forward to seeing what "campus life" is like at each school and likened the trips to the "final exam" in his recruitment.

There are plenty of people he can rely on for guidance as he makes his college decision.

Gordon is expected to be a standout at Arizona — possibly a one-and-done lottery pick — and has been actively recruiting Johnson to follow him to Tucson.

Kyle Wiltjer, who may or may not leave UK before the start of next season, was also a prominent member of the Oakland Soldiers program and keeps in touch with their coaching staff.

Johnson respects any opinions they might have on the process, but he won't let his elders be his guide.

"I want to have my own thing," he said. "I don't want their ... I mean, I want their input, but I want to have my own picture of it. I'm going to be the one living there. I want to figure it out for myself and make sure the accountability is on me."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216.Twitter: @NextCats.Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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