"It was fun. Every year's a new challenge," Stanley Johnson told CLA Sports yesterday.
Winning state championships should be fun and the Mater Dei Monarchs are beginning to build a monopoly on post-season celebrations in Sacramento. Stanley Johnson led the Monarchs to their 10th CIF State Championship under Head Coach Gary McKnight last week.
Believe it or not, Mater Dei wasn't projected to be a championship-caliber team this season.
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Tradition can be a great motivator for a team, and there is no lack of tradition at Mater Dei. However, being the underdog is the greatest motivator of all-time. Despite the fact that the Monarchs had built a tradition of claiming state titles, and won two in a row, they were all but dismissed when several key seniors left the team after last season.
"A lot of people at the beginning of the season didn't have us ranked at all. It was kind of motivation, coming from back-to-back state championships. It was kind of a smack in the face with them testing our abilities," Johnson told CLA Sports.
Johnson took over as the team leader in stride. "I enjoyed the task, taking over the team and being the leader. Katin (Reinhardt) and X (Xavier Johnson), Eli (Stalzer), David Brown, they gave me an example to lead by," he said.
"I went to work in the gym after last season so I could score as much as I wanted to and as much as I needed to," he says. "Being able to do it (win championship) leading the team was better. This year was one of the worst years we've had with the preseason rankings and ending up at state on top was one of the best feelings I've had all year."
Johnson came through for his coaches and teammates in dynamic fashion this season, scoring more than 25 points per game in the final two games of the state playoffs and taking home MVP honors.
With all the success, Stanley credits his coach with the team's mentality to go out and grind every night.
"One thing with Coach McKnight is that he's a competitor. He looks at the warmups, he looks at the player's mentality. He can look at a player and know if he's ready to play. He looks at the other team, he looks at the coaches," says Johnson.
"His fire and competitive nature feeds into the whole team. He's the reason for the competitive nature of the program."
Coach McKnight also makes sure to schedule tough opponents for Mater Dei, and his teams are routinely prepared for the competition come playoff time.
"Going into the season we played a lot of good teams. We saw a lot of good teams and some teams in the Vegas tournament that were better than teams out here," says Johnson.
With the return of Stanley Johnson for his senior season next year, and the emergence of freshman big man MJ Cage, the son of former NBA player Michael Cage, the Monarchs return to Sacramento is more than likely.
It's no question that Stanley Johnson will land at a top Division I basketball school, but don't expect him to make his decision on a whim. The junior forward has offers from the nation's best programs, including: Louisville, Kentucky, UCLA, UNLV and others.
"Now, getting older, you have to make an actual decision that's going to change your life. Having schools on the list is good, having bigger names is cool, but at the end you want to do what's best for you," he says.
He's also having fun during the process, and like most kids growing up he wanted to "Be like Mike."
"My dream school growing up was University of North Carolina. Talking to the bigger name colleges is always good because you get to meet some of those guys," says Johnson.
"I might start taking officials this spring. I've talked to some colleges about scheduling for spring. I'm going to have 7 schools I'll narrow it down to. I talked to Arizona and Kentucky the most about visiting in the spring but the timing didn't work out."
Johnson's decision wont necessarily rest on whether or not the team is coming off of an NCAA Championship season. The future collegiate student-athlete sees the bigger picture.
"What they do this year is nice and it's good to have a good name for yourself. I'm looking for more about what the recruiting class is like. I'm looking at what they're bringing in 2013 and what they have from the classes before," he says. "I'm mostly looking at it from the future."
The future looks bright for Stanley Johnson and the Mater Dei Monarchs. Soon enough, "Showtime," as the back of his basketball warmup reads, will brighten the future of whichever college he chooses to attend.