Four-time state champion Stanley Johnson of Santa Ana Mater Dei highest Californian taken in the 2015 NBA Draft at No. 8. Four other Californians taken, including two who weren’t considered elite in high school.
It came as no surprise that Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-6 small forward who played at Arizona for one season, was the first California native taken in the 2015 NBA Draft. After all, the 2014 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball is one of the most decorated players in state history after leading Mater Dei of Santa Ana to four consecutive CIF state titles in the state’s highest classification.
Mater Dei has been the most consistent winning program in California over the past 30 years and the most interesting note regarding Johnson’s selection at No. 8 by the Detroit Pistons is not that he was the highest Mater Dei player ever taken in the draft, but the fact he’s only the second Mater Dei player ever taken in the first round since Gary McKnight took over the program for the 1982-83 season.
The other Mater Dei player taken in the first round? It’s 1987 Mr. Basketball pick LeRon Ellis. After leading Mater Dei to its first of 11 CIF state titles in 1987, Ellis was the No. 22 pick of the first round in 1991 by the Los Angeles Clippers after playing at the University of Kentucky and Syracuse.
Despite obvious success on the high school level, many Mater Dei players haven’t found college to be as fruitful, but Johnson performed admirably in his only season in college. Many high school and college basketball experts feel Johnson also has a good chance to be a productive NBA player.
“I’m a competitor,” Johnson told reporters at the post NBA Draft press conference. “I’ll be ready to compete against anybody. I’ve never been afraid of anybody.”
Two other players who enjoyed considerable team and individual success at the high school level were taken in the second round. Huntington Beach Ocean View’s Anthony Brown, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard out of Stanford, was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 34 overall pick and Norman Powell, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of UCLA and San Diego Lincoln, was taken No. 46 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Brown teamed with point guard Avery Johnson to lead Ocean View to the CIF SoCal Division IV title in 2009. Ocean View lost in the state final to Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco. During Brown’s senior year in 2009-10, he was named second team all-state and averaged 18 points per game for a 29-5 team. Probably even more impressive was his 4.3 GPA and with that, many Orange County fans are ecstatic Brown will get a chance to play for the hometown Lakers because he and his family are so well-respected in the local basketball community.
Powell was a first team all-state choice as a senior and was the Western League MVP after averaging 20.4 ppg while leading the Hornets to the SoCal D2 regional final. As a junior, Powell teammed up with Grid-Hoop State Player of the Year Victor Dean to lead Lincoln to the CIF D2 state crown.
The other two players had a bit more humble beginnings to draft night. Tyler Harvey, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of Eastern Washington, wasn’t highly-regarded coming out of Torrance Bishop Montgomery. In fact, he was a redshirt walk-on after earning all-CIFSS Division 3-AA accolades as a senior in 2010-11.
Harvey grew 11 inches over the course of his high school career and by the end of his redshirt junior season for the Eagles, he had developed enough game to average 23.1 ppg and shoot 43.1 percent from the 3-point line, numbers better than any he put up at Bishop Montgomery.
On Thursday night, Harvey was drafted No. 51 overall by the Orlando Magic.
Johnson and Harvey are about as far apart on opposite ends of the spectrum as two NBA Draftees can be in terms of their high school success, but Harvey’s journey is further proof there is no formula or conventional path to a shot at the NBA.
The path of Delon Wright, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound point guard selected No. 20 overall by the Toronto Raptors, also illustrates that point. California’s only other first rounder besides Johnson was a talented high school player, but he wasn’t physically mature and it was evident even as a senior his best basketball days were clearly ahead of him.
After helping Lawndale Leuzinger win the school’s first ever CIFSS title in boys basketball during the 2009-10 season, Wright further developed at San Francisco City College before moving on to the University of Utah.
Wright, the younger brother of 2004 first round pick Dorrell Wright out of South Kent Prep in Connecticut via Leuzinger, was more highly-acclaimed as a prep player than Harvey, but not on the level of Powell or Brown. Wright was still 17 during his senior season at Leuzinger, but his with frame, family pedigree and the tutelage he received from then Olympians’ coach Reggie Morris Jr., it’s not all that surprising he eventually developed into a NBA prospect.
Wright likely would have been a third team all-state selection his senior season (his merits were discussed), but he missed the beginning portion of the season with a bout of the chicken pox. That allowed his teammate, 6-foot-6 junior forward Amir Garrett, to compile a bit better statistics and push ahead of him in the all-state conversation. The duo was CIFSS Div. I-A Co-Players of the Year, but Garrett got the nod for third team.
Had Wright not come down with the chicken pox, he likely would have been the choice. Garrett also went on to play college basketball, but today he’s a fine left-handed pitching prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was recently named to participate in the MLB All-Star Futures Game on July 12.