Kentucky Sports

Recruit Johnson surprised by firings at UCLA, USC

Stanley Johnson, a small forward from California, is rated No. 3 overall by in the class of 2014. He has a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
Stanley Johnson, a small forward from California, is rated No. 3 overall by in the class of 2014. He has a scholarship offer from Kentucky. ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Stanley Johnson made it clear over the weekend that everybody will get a fair shot at his commitment once he starts visiting college campuses this fall.

But two of the seven schools that remain on his list might have some catching up to do.

Johnson said that he found the recent firings of UCLA’s Ben Howland and Southern Cal’s Kevin O’Neill “very surprising.” The 6-foot-7 small forward from the Los Angeles area had built good relationships with those two coaches, and he’s just now getting to know their replacements.

“The change at UCLA was pretty abrupt,” he said. “I think UCLA did a little bit better job recruiting (me) than USC did, so losing Howland was a big deal.”

Johnson —’s No. 17 overall player in 2014 — called Steve Alford “great” and said he’s already been in contact with the new UCLA coach. He’s also intrigued by USC’s Andy Enfield, who delighted college basketball fans last month by leading Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 and making “Dunk City” a household phrase.

“I like the style that he plays,” Johnson said. “If he can make ‘Dunk City’ with subpar players, he can get players like myself and other players to make ‘Dunk City’ again and it could be a Final Four team.”

As we reported over the weekend, Johnson will take official visits to UK, Duke, Florida, Oregon and Arizona. UCLA and Southern Cal will get what he called “unofficial officials,” which means Johnson and his family will pay for the visits. He’ll stay in a hotel room, even though the schools are near his home, and treat the entire weekend like it’s an official visit.

“For me to get the best feel for college, I think I need to do that,” he said.

Calipari has made Johnson a top priority for the class of 2014. The five-star prospect said he has grown “really close” to UK assistant Orlando Antigua and is clearly looking forward to seeing Kentucky for the first time after spending the past year or so hearing from Calipari and his staff.

“They expect a lot of you,” he said. “They’re not going to baby me there. He says all the time it’s not for everybody. And that’s a challenge for me and my heart. He’s a great coach, a great motivator.”

Johnson is a hard worker on the court whose intense demeanor has often been compared to former Wildcat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’s a comparison Johnson is well aware of, but not one Calipari is trying to push on him.

“He wants me to be me,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t want me to have that pressure of Gilchrist. He doesn’t want me to have that pressure of anybody there. He thinks I’m my own player.”

Calipari called Johnson twice Saturday morning. The first time, Johnson was busy, so Calipari said he’d call the recruit back, hung up, and ended up calling both of his parents. Then the UK coach called Johnson a second time to deliver his recruiting pitch and let him know how much they wanted him in Lexington.

“I’ve heard it a billion times,” Johnson said, “but it’s always reassuring to hear it again.”

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