There are a lot of talented newcomers to college basketball. With all due respect to this crop of soon to be lottery picks, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson stands out as the best.
That’s quite a claim to make. But it’s easily defendable, unlike Johnson himself.
The biggest obstacle that freshmen face is physical. The strength, speed, and athleticism of the college game is a stark contrast to the loose feel of high school and AAU games.
But Johnson is one of the very few players who enters college not only with a frame ready to compete physically, but one that could allow him to dominate from day one.
There just aren’t many human beings on the planet who can move the way Johnson does at 6-7 and 245 lbs. His sheer mass and strength are impressive, but it’s his mobility and agility at that size that makes him uniquely equipped to handle the college game.
That combination of physical ability is a hallmark for success at the college level.
Another area where Johnson separates himself is his ability to create off the dribble. While some of his freshman counterparts (Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Cliff Alexander of Kansas) may be dominant post players, they are also reliant on teammates to get them the ball in scoring position.
Johnson, however, is a one man wrecking crew.
His ability to handle the ball and attack is what makes him unguardable. There just aren’t many defenders who have the speed to stay in front of him and the strength to hold their own near the basket. There are a lot of defenders with one or the other, but having both is a rarity in the college game.
Of course, Johnson will be on a loaded Arizona team next year, with other McDonald’s All-Americans playing beside him. And the Wildcats play an exceptionally balanced style of play, never relying too heavily on a single player.
So Johnson’s statistics may not jump off the page outside of good scoring and rebounding numbers. Chances are no one on this Arizona team will put up eye-popping stats, there’s just too much talent and only one ball. But Miller recruits the type of players who are willing to make that sacrifice.
And just because Johnson may not average the most points doesn’t mean he won’t be the best freshman in the country.
His ability to contribute in multiple phases of the game will be on display in Miller’s versatility-friendly system. Most importantly Johnson has great defensive versatility, another unique advantage he has over the country’s top newcomers.
At the end of the day, however, success is measured in wins. If Arizona realizes their team potential, they should be among the winningest teams in the country, and Johnson could be a huge part of why the Wildcats reach that level.
That can be another distinction Johnson adds to his already full trophy case.