Posted: 10:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013
For the longest time, Stanley Johnson from Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei was the only small forward in the 2014 class to hold an offer from the Kentucky Wildcats. Prior to his junior year, Johnson floated around recruiting lists as a fringe five-star prospect, hovering in the 15-30 range nationally. That's among the best, to be sure, but it felt puzzling to see Kentucky head coach John Calipari designate a spot for a player like Johnson.
At every other position in the 2014 class, Calipari parlayed quality players into diversified optionality. At center, Calipari had guys like Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander; at point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones. Well, fast forward a year, and it's now obvious why Calipari liked Johnson so much.
The west coast swingman has exploded up recruiting boards. His latest coup? Landing as the 2nd best prospect in the nation, according to 247 Sports' Jerry Meyer. In aggregate, Johnson now ranks 6th nationally according to the 247 Composite rankings.
Even a risk-taking coach like Calipari needs to hedge his bets, and Kentucky's coaching staff recently extended offers to two Texas swingmen, Justise Winslow and Kelly Oubre. Still, Johnson appears to be the top target at small forward for the Wildcats.
He's also arguably the most important. Quite possibly the most versatile player in the 2014 class, Johnson started his high school career as a post player, and has made an almost seamless transition to a perimeter threat. His scouting report shows him as a plus rebounder and defender. Most importantly, he possesses that aura, blending together a "glue guy" mentality with elite talent.
Simply put, Johnson has the potential to be the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Julius Randle of Kentucky's 2014 class.
But it won't be easy to sway Johnson from staying on the Pacific side of the country. Earlier this summer, Johnson set his list of five schools to receive official visits. Kentucky did lock down an important date, as Johnson plans to show up on October 18 for Big Blue Madness. The competitor that looms largest right now, the Arizona Wildcats, are slated for a visit from Johnson on October 12.
Johnson also plans to visit the Kansas Jayhawks on October 4 and the Florida Gators on October 30. His fifth official visit, to the Oregon Ducks, remains undetermined. Johnson will also unofficially visit two local schools, the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins, rounding out his list of finalists.
Despite the early official visits, Johnson told Steve Jones of the Courier-Journal that he plans to decide in January, which means he will sign in the Regular Signing Period in April. Kentucky finds itself in a good position. Johnson is still Calipari's top priority at the 3, despite the reports of offers that trickled out following Jones' article with Johnson's quotes of being impressed that "being the only small forward Kentucky has offered is a big deal."
In Kentucky's coaching staff's eyes (not to mention in the eyes of recruitniks across the board) Johnson is most definitely a big deal. Fingers crossed that Johnson's visit to Big Blue Madness reciprocates the feeling.