It is official, the Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball program is no longer rebuilding, and with the addition of standout high school McDonald’s All-American, Stanley Johnson, the Cats are now reloading. Head coach, Sean Miller is moving into his sixth season as the U of A boss and now that he has successfully been able to tap into the California market, the return to elite status has returned to Tucson.
The Wildcats will lose a first-team All-American in Nick Johnson, who has decided to make the leap to the NBA following a tremendous junior year that saw him take the reins and lead U of A to a 33-5 record. His head-strong mentality, extreme athleticism, in-your-face defense and natural leadership skills made Johnson a dynamic player in his three years at Arizona. In addition to losing Johnson, freshman standout, and “Mr. Intangibles,” Aaron Gordon has also opted out of his college eligibility and is making the jump to “the league.” His tremendous defensive ability and nose for the ball will be missed in Tucson, but a brief bout of sadness that hit Wildcats fans when Johnson and Gordon announced their plans was quickly fixed by the optimism of next year’s team.
Good programs rebuild. Excellent programs reload. Craig Victor, a 6’8 forward and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, the 5’8 point guard from southern California would have already made for a solid recruiting class, but look no further than Stanley “Stan the Man” Johnson from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana to help solidify the Wildcats as one of the best in the west, and one of the true national contenders in 2014-15.
Stanley Johnson unequivocally knows his role and knows how to win basketball games. During his four years at Mater Dei, Johnson and the Monarchs won four straight California state titles, with Johnson being a man among boys for most of his tenure. At 6’7, 235 pounds, he already has the frame and strength to be a dominating force in college basketball and with skills that will most likely see him playing the off-guard position, alongside the always solid and dependable, T.J. McConnell, the Cats look to make another strong run in the Pac-12 with high hopes of a Final Four run. If Stanley Johnson can live up to the already sky-high expectations, the Wildcats could be looking at their second straight Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and a good opportunity at winning the Pac-12 conference.
Stanley Johnson is the third straight “California Mr. Basketball” to join Arizona, (fourth if you include Ryan Anderson, who won the prestigious title in 2011 and announced two weeks ago that he will be transferring from Boston College to the University of Arizona). It is clear that Sean Miller has been able to dip into California and yank players from their own backyard to make the journey to the Sonoran desert. As long as elite recruits continue to see individual and team success at Arizona, there is little doubt that Arizona basketball is on the rise as Sean Miller continues to bring in some of the best of the best.
The recruiting ball began to roll when Sean Miller snagged Derick Williams, who would go on to become one of the best players in college basketball during the 2010-11 season, and a future number two pick in the NBA draft. Following the success of Williams, a domino effect has begun in Tucson, as the Wildcats have landed top recruits like Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Aaron Gordon, and now Stanley Johnson. One Johnson leaves Tucson and his playing days at the McKale Center, while another Johnson steps into the shoes of a basketball program that is back on the rise since being taken over by Pittsburgh native, Sean Miller.
By all accounts, Stanley Johnson, who averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, is already college ready and should be able to step into an impact role from day one. Alongside Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who began to make his mark mid-way through the past season, a duo of Jefferson and Johnson could be one of the most exciting in the country. It is hard to imagine that either of these players will come off of the bench, so look for a starting lineup that includes: Tarcewski (7’0), Ashley (6’8), Hollis-Jefferson (6’7), Johnson (6’7) and McConnell (6’1). It is a big lineup with big expectations, and if the reloaded Wildcats can come together and play well as a team, fans of Arizona Wildcat basketball could have lots to cheer about this coming winter in the “Old Pueblo.”
Commentary by Johnny Caito