In the latest edition of Basketball Times, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who has coached that prestigious program for 32 years, put his former star player Stanley Johnson in a class by himself among the best high school players California has produced.
“At his size, Stanley (Johnson) is the best this state has ever seen.”
— Gary McKnight, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei coach
Basketball Times, a print-only publication, selected the Arizona-bound Johnson its prep player of the year in its June edition.
“I’ve had the best of the best in my 32 years, and he’s the best I’ve had,” McKnight told Basketball Times of Arizona’s 5-star recruit from the same school that produced Wildcat standouts Miles Simon and Reggie Geary.
“Bill Russell and Bill Walton played in California and Stanley is not the rebounder or shot blockers they were, but they probably couldn’t do the things on the perimeter Stanley can. Probably the best comparison is Jason Kidd, and we played in a state title game against Jason Kidd. Jason could have posted up like he did, put the ball on the floor, but he was a different player.”
The Basketball Times article ended with this quote from McKnight: “At his size, Stanley is the best this state has ever seen.”
That’s laying it on thick, but who’s to argue McKnight?
In his career at Mater Dei, McKnight has won 31 league titles, 22 Southern Section titles and 11 state championships. Each of the past 10 Monarch teams have won 30 games or more. Johnson was an important part of Mater Dei’s last four state championships. Russell, Walton an Kidd led their respective schools to two titles their junior and senior seasons.
McKnight’s career win total stands at 995. His career win percentage of .921 is the best in high school basketball history.
If McKnight’s assertion about Johnson is the case, Sean Miller’s ability to recruit the standout guard away from UCLA and others speaks volumes of where Arizona stands in the post-Lute Olson years.
There’s no denying Olson recruited the best player in Arizona’s prep history, Sean Elliott, but that was more by chance with Elliott playing locally at Cholla High School than by the stature of the program. Olson was only three years into his tenure in his rebuilding project at Arizona when Elliott signed in 1985.
Russell starred at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., but not until his junior and senior seasons when he grasped the fundamentals of the game after he was cut from his junior high school team.
The primary challenger for Johnson being California’s best is Walton, who was a dominating player at Helix High School in La Mesa, Calif.
As a junior and senior, Walton and Helix won back-to-back California Interscholastic Federation-San Diego Section championships. In his senior season, Walton averaged 29 points and 25 rebounds a game (not a misprint) as he led Helix to a 33-0 record.
Kidd attended St. Joseph-Notre Dame High School in Alameda, Calif. He led his team to consecutive state championships, averaging 25 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals his senior season.