Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson calls himself genuine, as in he doesn’t lie to himself or anyone else.
So why should a team select him high in the June 25 NBA draft?
"Cuz I’m the best player in the draft," he asserted without hesitation Thursday at the Draft Combine in Chicago
Probably not so with players like Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns turning pro. But if Johnson is available with the ninth pick (the most likely spot for the Charlotte Hornets should they not jump into the top three via the draft lottery Tuesday) he’d be a very intriguing option.
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Yes, Johnson is cocky, but not without cause. He’s 6-6 and 240 pounds with about seven percent body fat. He can defend shooting guards, small forwards and some power forwards. He shot 37 percent from college 3-point range and takes 100 shots from NBA 3-point range daily.
He’d do a lot of things the Hornets need. It’s no surprise they chose to do a job interview with him at the Draft Combine and are likely to bring him to Charlotte for a pre-draft workout.
"I can do a bunch of things, so I can fit on any team," Johnson said. "I tell the truth and I think they respect that about me."
Usually I’m wary of players so quick to brag on themselves. But Johnson doesn’t sound arrogant. He understands he’s talented, with a strong Ron Artest-type body, and he’s prepared for this moment.
He’s been mentored by former NBA head coach Mike Brown, whose son, Elijah, was a teammate at Mater Dei High School in California’s Orange County. He did workouts with Kobe Bryant last August before ever playing a college game at Arizona.
He’s been a winner – Mater Dei won four state titles when he was there and Arizona advanced to the Elite Eight his only college season.
And he sounds remarkably mature for someone yet to turn 19.
"Anything that’s given to you can be counterfeit, so I want to work for everything I get," Johnson said.
When I say mature, here’s what comes to mind: He welcomes people being hard on him, which is uncommon in the enabler-filled culture of high school and college basketball. Brown, the former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, warned him in advance Johnson wouldn’t always enjoy his reviews.
"He’s an honest guy, a straight shooter," Johnson said. "The first time I met him he said, ‘I’ll help you out with your game, but if you want me to be all sweet with you and not tell you the truth, I’m not the right guy for you.’
"That’s the kind of guy I want around me. When I hit him up, he’s always honest with me."
Bryant invited Johnson to a series of private workouts last August before he moved to Tucson for college. "Hardest thing I’ve ever done," Johnson said of those sessions.
Then he spent a season playing for Arizona coach Sean Miller in a demanding atmosphere where he averaged 13.8 rebounds, 6.5 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the field.
"Now I can police myself, which I couldn’t say before I got to Arizona," Johnson said. "Without coach Miller being hard on me and telling me what I have to do, I wouldn’t be ready for this today."
Thursday Johnson was asked why he thinks he’s as good as any player in this draft. He answered candidly, but not smugly.
"I offer versatility," Johnson described. "I can score from all three levels (at the rim, mid-range and 3-point range). I can be a primary ball-handler so I’m good in any pick-and-roll and two-man game situation. And on defense I play hard.
"I’m going to play smart and I’m a nasty competitor. I don’t think there are many guys out there who want to win and compete as much as I do. I’ll definitely bring that to any locker room."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell