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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Stanley Johnson’s rise to the top

Tyler Baker
Former Arizona forward Stanley Johnson (5) takes off for a dunk against USC in McKale Center on Feb. 19, 2015. Johnson is making a name for himself as part of the Detroit Pistons and currently averages nine points per game.

Adjusting to the NBA may seem challenging in terms of size, game play, intelligence of the game or overall athleticism. Yet one of the most difficult challenges for former Arizona forward Stanley Johnson is the amount of free time.

“There’s so much free time,” Johnson said. “What do I do with my off days? You have to find a hobby to keep your mind off basketball, but not something too wild, because you still need to think about basketball.”

From the outside, it seems that a league player would constantly be getting shots in the gym, working out or maybe running drills; but an athlete’s body needs rest. Some of the ways that Johnson keeps busy is through massages or pedicures; something to stay relaxed on his days off from work.

Aside from adjusting to the free time, Johnson is confident that his background at the UA helped him develop and adjust to the NBA.

Arizona basketball is a program that concentrates on the team aspect and being specifically A Players Program. When Johnson played at Mater Dei High School, it was clear that he was a superior athlete.

“In high school, I was able to get to the rim with ease,” Johnson said. “When I got to Arizona, it was different, especially in the NBA. I had to develop a mid-range game.”

Because of Johnson’s foundation at Arizona, he was able to improve his game and earn playing time. The beginning of development in Tucson came from Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s coaching style, which helped Johnson learn how to quickly adjust to the NBA. Miller concentrated on having players get better every day.

“Even though I was already a talented player, he challenged me to get better every day, despite my short time in Tucson,” Johnson said.

The physical development came quickly during the one season Johnson was at the UA. The mental development also helped him. Miller taught him how to do things correctly and efficiently, even on a bad day.

“There is no intro to the NBA,” Johnson said. “There is no walk-through. You either know it or you don’t. And if you don’t, you don’t play. Sometimes my job becomes like a template: city, hotel, leave, go home and over again. You have to change your mindset to grind it out and also make it fun.”

Any type of athlete who advances to the next level of his or her sport may experience the difficulty of not playing, not starting, lacking the knowledge of the game or lacking speed or physical ability. These aspects, however, can all be obtained with sacrifice and dedication to the particular sport.

“I play because I wake up and think about basketball,” Johnson said. “I want to play, regardless of if I get paid or not. It’s like a love and compassion for basketball. I know I have a burning passion for it.”

Johnson has a passion for basketball and he doesn’t think twice about the sacrifices he makes to play.

“I think about going in and getting better, to be the best that I can be. I want to make the Pistons fans proud,” Johnson said. “I came into the league with an open mind.”

Halfway through the NBA season, Johnson’s open mind helped him set new goals for next season, such as being a better shooter, making better decisions, being a reliable player in the league and being able to make a major stride in his game.

Johnson plays for more than just himself. Johnson’s mother, Karen Taylor, who was inducted into Jackson State University’s Hall of Fame in 2009, died in summer 2015. The imprint that Johnson’s mother left for him gives him another purpose to play.

“She taught me how to play the game,” Johnson said. “I strive to know that going to work, I go with a purpose. It’s bigger than just today or tomorrow. … Everybody can’t be on an all-time greatest list, so when I work at basketball, it’s like working extra to be one of the greatest to ever do it.”

After Johnson’s mother’s death, the NBA rookie showed only strength through the process. After his first year at Arizona, he was a top 10 draft pick. The Pistons are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. Johnson averages 23.9 minutes and nine points per game.

“Nothing compares to the league,” Johnson said. “You are always with the best players in the world. You play against the best players in the world.”

Though Johnson had the time of his life at Arizona, the NBA is also something special for him.

“Arizona was for me,” Johnson said. “I picked to go to Arizona and I had the time of my life. Regardless of who the coach or staff is, I am always going to be connected to Arizona. It’s family.”

Follow Gia Trevisan on Twitter.

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