Let's be honest. Anytime a player emerges from Southern California, many coaches, scouts and fans all immediately ponder the same question: Is he soft?
While the softie, West Coast stereotype has been debunked by numerous players, that reputation nevertheless persists. But Stanley Johnson more than offers protest; he's doing his level best to annihilate any lingering artifacts.
Johnson's career arc has included substantial improvement in the skill areas, but he's always been an iron clad competitor. He made his national debut with Belmont Shore late in his freshman season and even at that early point possessed a body far advanced for his age.
His recruitment blossomed immediately. USC (Kevin O'Neill era) offered a very early scholarship, and the other Pac-12 powers also marked him closely.
Johnson went on to impress during his sophomore season, primarily relying on his ample strength and athleticism but continuing to add new skill wrinkles as well. Having joined the Oakland Soldiers as a rising junior, he joined a talented crew that also included elite 2013 forward Aaron Gordon and went on to capture the EYBL championship.
By the time he suited up as a junior, his list had expanded and he'd made unofficial visits to USC, UCLA and Arizona. But the recruitment's tone would shift after coaching changes set in with the Trojans and Bruins, and when more national powers leapt into the race. Kentucky made its play this past spring, and everyone knew to take John Calipari's Wildcats seriously.
About that time he told Scout.com's Lindsey Thirry that "This could drag out," and a spring decision certainly wouldn't surprise.
Back on the court, Johnson put a stranglehold on the summer. His play ranged from outstanding to sensational, depending on the event, and among his successes was capturing the MVP trophy at the Pangos All-American Camp.
Heading into the fall, he planned to visit Arizona, USC, Kentucky and Florida. He also continued to list UCLA, Oregon and Kansas, but he committed to Arizona without another suitor posing a truly significant threat.
You certainly gathered plenty about these from the intro, but Johnson is immensely strong for his age. With broad shoulders and the frame to carry all that muscle without sacrificing any flexibility, Johnson is among the most powerful wings in the country.
He also has become very skilled. He's a solid wing handler and a particularly gifted passer who loves to wear down defenses over time. After delivering a series of body blows on drives that result in buckets and fouls, he'll burrow forward again only to slyly find a teammate for an uncontested hoop.
His rebounding and defense also draw raves. He employs a very wide stance that, matched with his strength, enables him to do a fine job on dribble contain. He's also a consistent menace on both backboards thanks not only to his body but his ferocious style. Johnson is a naturally mean competitor whose skill maximizes that meanness.
Opinions vary on his jump shot. He certainly possesses that range, however, and is reasonably accurate given sufficient time. Because he's such an outstanding slasher and overall player, even average shooting will make him a fearsome scorer from all ranges.
Shooting remains a primary question mark. Johnson has improved his range and consistency, but he's hardly a killer from deep. Even at the high school level, some defenders will back off and dare him to shoot. Sometimes that strategy succeeds and sometimes it fails, but Johnson can be too quick to settle for a three when other options may be available.
Long-term, he also is just average in terms of height for the NBA. Johnson is a wing forward, not a guard, and at 6-6 he's on the shorter for the professional three. Of course, the fact that he's so strong will alleviate a lot of pressure, but his stature still is worth noting.
You have to look far and wide to find a safer prospect. There's no way to anticipate injuries and the like, but Johnson's power, skill and determination make him almost a sure thing for college. He'll need to fine-tune his jump shot to enjoy that same success down the road, but he has plenty of time to make that happen.
The other mostly unspoken question is Mater Dei. An inordinate number of players from that famed high school have transferred at least one in college, and now the book is out on Mater Dei products. But while it's worth knowing, Johnson may not need more than one year of college in the first place. In his case, and ignoring the fact that some Meter Dei recruits have prospered during four years of college at one school, the issue likely is moot.