When I released my way too early 2014-15 preseason rankings, the Arizona Wildcats were the clearcut number one. Those were posted under the assumption that Aaron Gordon was leaving for the NBA Draft but that Nick Johnson would return for his senior season. With Gordon and Johnson both announcing they are turning pro, McDonald’s All-American Stanley Johnson now becomes an even more vital piece next season for Sean Miller.
Even with Gordon and Nick Johnson leaving Tuscon, Arizona still returns a talented core with Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley all returning to school. Add in the backcourt of T.J. McConnell and Gabe York, and Stanley Johnson might not even start in 2014-15 despite being one of the top recruits in the 2014 class.
“That’s okay with me,” Johnson told me at the McDonald’s All-American Game Media Day. “I told Coach Miller I don’t want you to promise me to start. I don’t want you to promise me any minutes. I want you to promise me the opportunity to play through practice. He said as long as you practice hard and do what you have to do in practice, you’ll get minutes.”
“Obviously I’m going there to sit on the bench either. I’m not used to having things handed to me so it doesn’t matter to me if I start, I’ll find a away to get minutes. There’s always going to be a time when someone is better than you so you have to learn to play through the struggle, through adversity. That gets you better. As long as I’m doing what I have to do to earn minutes, I’ll be fine with it.”
Time will tell what Miller does with his lineup next season, but having a versatile piece like Johnson provides a ton of flexibility. At 6-6, Johnson’s natural position is on the wing but he also played a lot of point guard during his senior year at Mater Dei Monarch High School where he won four state titles.
“I love winning. I can’t stand losing. I’m not used to it. I never lost in high school. It’d be different if I went to somewhere else that wasn’t winning. That was big knowing I’ll have a chance to play in the Final Four.”
While the Wildcats aren’t the surefire Final Four bet that they would have been if Nick Johnson and/or Aaron Gordon returned, Stanley Johnson headlines a deep recruiting class that when combined with the solid returning core; should help Sean Miller get to his first Final Four.
“If you get me and Rondae, with Gabe a shooter and T.J. a passer… I can score from a lot of levels on the court. Rondae can attack the basket and score from mid-range. Then you have Brandon and Kaleb who are probably pros inside so we’re going to dominate all over the floor. We’ll be crazy. We’ll be the team that gets over the hump.”
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Milwaukee to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag), and finished with the second most accurate 2013 NBA Mock Draft (nearly a three-peat.) You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.