Arizona Basketball

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Stanley Johnson says he ends his AAU career a winner despite his team losing in its last title game (Team USA photo)

Stanley Johnson says he ends his AAU career a winner despite his team losing in its last title game (Team USA photo)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Although his AAU team lost in a tournament championship here, high-profile Oakland Soldiers Elite wing player Stanley Johnson, entering his senior year at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, said he goes on to the next stage of his career a winner.

“You can’t dwell on the past,” Johnson told me after the Soldiers lost to Seattle Rotary 61-58 at Spring Valley High School. “You gotta keep pushing. This is my Soldiers team. I put my heart and soul into this program since my freshman year.

“At the end of the day, we won. Everybody on our team is going to get a scholarship. I will go anywhere I want. Everything I was promised when I started with the Oakland Soldiers has come true. I won. I made relationships I will never forget. A game like this is important, but in the long haul, I think I won in this whole thing.”

Johnson, a Class of 2014 recruiting target for Arizona, spoke to me about a half-hour after the game concluded following a long heart-to-heart meeting with coach Jules Milstead and his players.

Johnson’s last AAU game did not go as he wanted. He could not take control of the game despite scoring a team-high 16 points. Like all of the players, he appeared to be fatigued and a step slow on some plays. His aggressive style never subsided, however.

As the buzzer sounded, he promptly took off his jersey and looked at the ceiling of the gym in disbelief.

When Seattle Rotary openly celebrated on the court afterward, he bolted for the exit after the customary hand shakes and sat outside to wait for the rest of his teammates. The competitive spirit in him was obvious.

“The kids lost, but they have won in the game of life,” Milstead told me. “At the end of the day, that’s the main reason why we do this. It’s not to win national championships. It’s not to win a championship in Vegas. It’s to make sure that we give these kids a future, a chance to play basketball in college and get their degree.

“That’s what we (Oakland Soldiers) have been doing the last 14 years and we will continue to do that.”

The setback in the championship game can also benefit Class of 2015 post player Ivan Rabb from a maturity standpoint. Rabb is another Arizona target who attends Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. He struggled with 12 points and made a pivotal turnover with 10 seconds left after grabbing an offensive rebound.

A Seattle Rotary player intercepted Rabb’s pass and managed to dribble out the clock before the Soldiers could foul him.

“The schedule (three games in four hours in the tournament bracket) can be tough,” Milstead reasoned for the subpar play.

“It’s tough on me as a coach. It’s tough on them. It’s a mental drain. Players like Stanley and Ivan have been back and forth all over the country. They have to be tired, but they’re competitors. We asked them to play their hardest, and they did.”

Johnson plays in one more youth basketball event — the Adidas Nations Global tournament — starting Thursday in Los Angeles. He said he will welcome fellow UA recruiting target Jahlil Okafor, a 6-10 post player from Chicago, into his home during the event. They shook hands and posed for pictures after Okafor’s Mac Irvin Fire team was eliminated by Seattle Rotary in the semifinals.

“I’ve known him since the 7th grade,” Johnson said. “I text him all the time. We’re really close to each other. We hung out almost every day here in Vegas. He is like a brother.”

They will compete against each other in Los Angeles and then set their sights on recruiting visits and potentially signing in November. Johnson will officially visit Arizona in October during the UA’s Red-Blue Scrimmage. Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Kentucky, UCLA, USC, Kansas and Duke are his final eight choices.

Milstead said Johnson will make any of those programs Final Four contenders. He places Johnson a notch above Oakland Soldiers alumni Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Jabari Brown, Dominic Artis and Josiah Turner, to name a few.

“Stanley is best player I’ve ever coached,” said Milstead, who is in the third year as head coach but has been affiliated with the program longer. “Aaron was the best, last year. Those two kids, I can get on them really tough and they respond. Other kids see that and it just trinkles down. Stanley is the best kid to put on a Soldier uniform.” publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site


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