UK Recruiting

2014 Kentucky target Johnson offers leadership, versatility

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

HAMPTON, Va. — In most cases, the player-coach dynamic is pretty simple. When the coach talks, the player listens. If the player doesn't listen, the player doesn't play.

Stanley Johnson is a different case.

While Oakland Soldiers Coach Mark Olivier was delivering instructions to his team during a timeout over the weekend, Johnson wasn't listening.

But he also wasn't arguing or pouting or daydreaming.

Johnson wasn't even in the huddle. He had pulled a younger teammate aside, walked him to the other end of the bench, and was showing him how he should be posting up an opponent who had been pushing him around all game.

In other words, Johnson was doing exactly what Olivier wants him to do.

"What he sees and what I see could be two totally different things," Olivier said. "He's on the court, so he kind of lives it. ... And I don't know everything, because you know what? I've never played at his level."

There are few who can play at Johnson's level.

The Fullerton, Calif., native is one of the top players in the class of 2014. He's rated No. 17 overall by, and he's getting better every day.

"The thing about Stanley is he's versatile," said Scout's Evan Daniels. "He's really added a lot to his game. At one point, I thought he was going to end up being a '4' man just because of his body and how thick he is. But he's really developed his ball skills. He handles the ball really well.

"He'll do the little stuff. And I think that's what coaches like about him. He rebounds, he plays hard, he's a team guy, he wants to win. He works really hard too, and I think everybody sees that."

His best quality might be his leadership ability.

When Johnson talks — and he does it quite often — his teammates and coaches listen. He refers to the Oakland Soldiers — the defending champions in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League — as "my team." And that's by design.

Johnson has spent the past two summers learning from older players. In 2011, the Soldiers belonged to McDonald's All-American Brandon Ashley, now a standout forward at Arizona. Last year, it was another McDonald's All-American, Aaron Gordon, who led the team to a Peach Jam title.

While they were leading, they were also grooming Johnson to take over one day.

That day has come, and Johnson is more than comfortable in his new role.

The player he pulled aside for extra instruction during the timeout was Ivan Rabb, a 6-foot-10 forward considered the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2015. Rabb could have easily blown off his slightly older teammate's advice. Instead, he listened intently.

"I think I know the game a lot for a player my age," Johnson said. "So if I see something I think we can expose — whether it be me, whether it be Ivan, whether it be a guard — (Olivier) told me to tell him. So I'm going to tell him. ... He lets me voice my opinion."

With a 6-7, 230-pound frame and an authoritative confidence on all things basketball, Johnson makes it easy to forget he's only 16 years old.

Maybe that's why college coaches fell in love with him so early.

Johnson was one of the first players in his class to receive a scholarship offer from John Calipari, and UK is one of seven schools that remain in the mix for his commitment.

Several other players with UK offers are rated higher than Johnson, but he says he feels a special bond with Calipari.

"He's really excited about me and he really wants me to be there," Johnson said. "I feel that (from him) more than a lot of other coaches. Coming from the biggest school on my list — quote, unquote — that's a lot coming from him."

All seven schools will get visits before Johnson makes his decision. He's allowed to take only five official visits — which is when the school pays for the trip — so Johnson and his family have come up with a unique way of hitting all seven campuses.

UK, Duke, Florida, Arizona and Oregon will get his five officials. UCLA and Southern Cal — the two local options — will get "unofficial officials," as Johnson calls them. His parents will help him pay for a hotel room, and the five-star prospect will treat everything as if it's an official visit from there.

"Every school is telling me what I want to hear," Johnson said. "At the end of the day it's going to be, when I go to the campus, what I see there and how I feel about the program. It's going to come down to the players that come there and the players that are there."

And staying on the West Coast won't play a large role in Johnson's decision. The No. 1 factor will be finding a place where he can win, and finding other talented players he can win with.

After all, he's used to it.

In addition to last year's Peach Jam title with the Soldiers, Johnson is coming off three consecutive state titles with celebrated Mater Dei High School. He beat former Soldiers teammate Aaron Gordon in the state finals this past season to help Mater Dei finish with a 34-2 record.

Continuing that success will be the priority when he gets to college.

"Stanley's going to a place where he can win," Olivier said. "Winning's important. Look at his track record. That's a winner, in every essence of the word. So you can't go to a program that's a losing program. Because he's a winner."

So how would Johnson fit in at Kentucky?

"C'mon, man, it's Kentucky," Olivier said, as if the answer were obvious. "How would he fit in at Kentucky? You tell me."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader