Mr. Basketball 2014: Stanley Johnson

California's Mr. Basketball for 2014, Stanley Johnson from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, seemed to thrive during CIF state finals at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena. Photo: Willie Eashman.

California’s Mr. Basketball for 2014, Stanley Johnson from Mater Dei of Santa Ana, seemed to thrive during CIF state finals at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena. Photo: Willie Eashman.

No surprise here, but it is now official as Mater Dei’s four-year standout joins all-time state list that extends back to 1905 and includes others such as Bill Sharman, Paul Silas, Bill Walton, Bill Cartwright, Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler, Kawhi Leonard and Aaron Gordon.

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This year’s selection for California’s top individual boys basketball honor is more of a coronation than a conversation as Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson is a four-time state champion and ranks as the best player ever from his storied Orange County program.

As the 2013-14 season wore on, there wasn’t any question who should be considered California’s top overall boys basketball player. It was just a matter of what kind of legacy that Johnson was going to leave.

Even if the 6-foot-7 point forward from Santa Ana Mater Dei didn’t lead his team to its fourth consecutive CIF state title and the program’s first CIF state title without a loss, he still would have been the state’s best player. The fact he was able to accomplish winning a fourth CIF state title for a 35-0 team makes Johnson just an easier Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year choice.

Last year, Johnson was edged by good friend and travel ball running mate Aaron Gordon of San Jose Archbishop Mitty. This year there is really no debate.

Today, Johnson becomes the fourth honoree from state power Mater Dei, joining Taylor King (2007), LeRon Ellis (1987) and Tom Lewis (1985). The two other players from an Orange County high school other than Mater Dei to earn the state’s most prestigious honor are Rich Branning of Huntington Beach Marina (1976) and the immortal Art Worthy of Huntington Beach (1911).

Stanley gets ready to rain down a dunk during CIF state final vs. Bishop O'Dowd. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Stanley gets ready to rain down a dunk during CIF state final vs. Bishop O’Dowd. Photo: Willie Eashman.

“I want to go down as Mater Dei’s best,” Johnson said.

What Johnson accomplished for Mater Dei has been well chronicled on this website: He averaged 25.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for a 35-0 team that finished ranked No. 2 in the Student Sports FAB 50. Mater Dei also was named mythical national champion and Johnson named national player of the year by at least one publication.

But Johnson is defined by more than leading Mater Dei to a 135-7 record and four CIF state titles. He has a unique ability to know what he needed to provide in order for Mater Dei to win its biggest games – whether that would be facilitating or taking over in scoring. He also had a unique ability to give teammates and fans the feeling Mater Dei would find a way to win as long as he was on the floor.

Three times in big games this year (against Etiwanda, Chino Hills and in the state title game versus Bishop O’Dowd) Johnson hit dagger 3-pointers from well beyond NBA 3-point range that lifted his team when it was on the ropes. He also was given point guard duties at times and did an admirable job despite lead guard not being his natural position. His best individual feat was stepping up his game to an even higher level after Mater Dei lost two potential starters after the school year began.

“Wow, I’m very proud of him (earning Mr. Basketball),” said Karen Taylor, Johnson’s mother and a former standout at Moss Point (Miss.) High School, Jackson State and overseas. “I raised Stanley and put the ball in his hand when he was three years old. I raised him to set goals to make things like this happen. I’m proud that he listened enough. I told him you just got to do a bit more and trust your teammates more and that’s what he did.”

“I started trusting my teammates and it was all about building relationships with them,” Johnson said. “That started in the summer. To win four state titles, I can’t really explain the feeling, it’s just a blessing.”

At this year’s CIF state championships, Gary McKnight called Johnson the greatest player ever to play for his 11-time state title-winning program. The real question beckons, where does Johnson stand in the annals of Orange County high school basketball and among California’s all-time best players?

“He’s the most polished and college-ready player I’ve ever seen in Orange County,” said Steve Fryer of the Orange County Register, who has covered high school basketball games for the newspaper since 1979 and covered McKnight’s first home game in 1982. “Now we don’t get guys at that level in Orange County as often as L.A. County, but of the guys I’ve seen Paul Pierce (Inglewood) comes to mind. It’s always hard to predict, but he has the look of an NBA guy. How good will he be in the NBA? I don’t know. With his IQ and court sense, I think this kid will go an awfully long way.”

Johnson said his goal is to be on California’s “Mount Rushmore” of players (a term coined by NBA star LeBron James about the four best in any particular genre) and his ability and high school resume make for a compelling argument for inclusion.

There is no doubting Johnson’s place on any credible all-time Orange County Mount Rushmore list. Looking at it from a pure talent standpoint, California’s top foursome as of now would likely include Jason Kidd (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame), John Williams (L.A. Crenshaw) and the late Raymond Lewis (L.A. Verbum Dei) with the fourth spot open to interpretation. With regards to the best players the state has ever produced, it’s obviously too early to tell if Johnson can break through a group that definitely includes Kidd, Bill Walton (La Mesa Helix) and Bill Russell (Oakland McClymonds), who wasn’t a star high school player but an all-time NCAA and NBA great.

From the point of view of accomplishments and resume, it’s hard to deny Johnson a spot among California’s top four for what he’s accomplished over the last four years.

Regardless of where Johnson falls on various Mt. Rushmore lists, there is no doubt he was California’s best player for the 2013-14 season and one of the state’s most accomplished players ever. His standing among the state’s all-time greats will make for great bar stool arguments and Twitter debates as his career unfolds.

Mater Dei's Stanley Johnson attacks the basket in front of Mitty's Aaron Gordon in last year's CIF Open Division state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson attacks the basket in front of Mitty’s Aaron Gordon in during 2013 CIF Open Division state final. Too bad they won’t be teammates at Arizona, but who knows maybe they will someday in the NBA. Gordon will be a lottery pick later this year. If all goes well during his freshman year, Johnson may follow. Photo: Willie Eashman.

MR. BASKETBALL
STATE PLAYERS
OF THE YEAR
ALL-TIME LIST

(All selections by Cal-Hi Sports)

Note: All-time list before 1978 compiled by our founder, the late Nelson Tennis, based on research.

2014 Stanley Johnson, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-6
2013 Aaron Gordon, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8
2012 Aaron Gordon, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 6-8 Jr.
2011 Ryan Anderson, Long Beach Poly, 6-8
2010 Allen Crabbe, Los Angeles Price, 6-6
2009 Kawhi Leonard, Riverside Martin Luther King, 6-7
2008 Jrue Holiday, North Hollywood Campbell Hall, 6-3
2007 Taylor King, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-8
2006 Chase Budinger, Carlsbad La Costa Canyon, 6-8
2005 Amir Johnson, L.A. Westchester, 6-10
2004 DeMarcus Nelson, Sacramento Sheldon, 6-3
2003 Trevor Ariza, L.A. Westchester, 6-8
2002 Hassan Adams, L.A. Westchester, 6-4
2001 Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-1
2000 Tyson Chandler, Compton Dominguez, 7-0
1999 Casey Jacobsen, Glendora, 6-6
1998 Tayshaun Prince, Compton Dominguez, 6-8
1997 Baron Davis, Santa Monica Crossroads, 6-2
1996 Corey Benjamin, Fontana, 6-6
1995 Paul Pierce, Inglewood, 6-7
1994 Jelani Gardner, Bellflower St. John Bosco, 6-6
1993 Charles O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-7
1992 Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4
1991 Jason Kidd, Alameda St. Joseph, 6-4 Jr.
1990 Ed O’Bannon, Lakewood Artesia, 6-9
1989 Tracy Murray, Glendora, 6-8
1988 Chris Mills, L.A. Fairfax, 6-7
1987 LeRon Ellis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-11
1986 Scott Williams, Hacienda Heights Wilson, 6-10
1985 Tom Lewis, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-7
1984 John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-8
1983 John Williams, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-7 Jr.
1982 Tony Jackson, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd, 6-4
1981 Dwayne Polee, L.A. Manual Arts, 6-5
1980 Ralph Jackson, Inglewood, 6-3
1979 Darren Daye, Granada Hills Kennedy, 6-7
1978 Greg Goorjian, Crescenta Valley, 6-2
1977 Cliff Robinson, Oakland Castlemont, 6-7
1976 Rich Branning, Huntington Beach Marina, 6-2
1975 Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-1
1974 Bill Cartwright, Elk Grove, 7-0 Jr.
1973 Marques Johnson, L.A. Crenshaw, 6-5
1972 Cliff Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-7 Jr.
1971 Roscoe Pondexter, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial, 6-6
1970 Bill Walton, La Mesa Helix, 6-10
1969 Keith Wilkes, Ventura, 6-5 Jr.
1968 Paul Westphal, Redondo Beach Aviation, 6-2
1967 Curtis Rowe, L.A. Fremont, 6-6
1966 Dennis Awtrey, San Jose Blackford, 6-9
1965 Bob Portman, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-5
1964 Russ Critchfield, Salinas, 5-10
1963 Edgar Lacey, L.A. Jefferson, 6-6
1962 Joe Ellis, Oakland McClymonds, 6-5
1961 Gail Goodrich, L.A. Poly, 5-11
1960 Paul Silas, Oakland McClymonds, 6-6
1959 Steve Gray, S.F. Washington, 6-4
1958 Billy McGill, L.A. Jefferson, 6-9
1957 Tom Meschery, S.F. Lowell, 6-5
1956 Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4
1955 Fred LaCour, S.F. St. Ignatius, 6-4 Jr.
1954 Willie Davis, Alameda, 5-11
1953 Bill Bond, Long Beach St. Anthony, 6-1
1952 Willie Naulls, San Pedro, 6-5
1951 Ken Sears, Watsonville, 6-7
1950 Don Bragg, S.F. Galileo, 6-3

List extends back to 1905 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac.

Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


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