If you had to describe Stanley Johnson in one word, you would have plenty of options. However, the easiest route to go might be describing him as a winner.
“I think winning is an attitude,” Johnson said. “I am a competitor and I think everybody here knows I am competing. As I have been here, I feel guys are competing more in practice because they know every time I come out I am going to compete.
“I am going to try to win every drill and play hard and win every one on one and every two on two to try to make us all better. I used to struggle in practice staying engaged and staying in tune, so now I just stay competitive in every drill.”
Johnson’s competitive spirit extends to nearly everything he does and he believes he is in a position to help the Wildcats reach their ultimate goal.
“I like to win, thats why I came to school here,” he said. “I think we have the tools and the people here like to win as well.
“I think winning is an attribute and there is a winning mentality that comes with competitiveness and every time I play I try to compete, whether it is in practice, video games, or whatever.
“Everybody who knows me knows that. These guys got so close last year and they know how to win games, so I just need to get on the train and keep riding it. I think this year we can knock down the door and get to the Final Four.”
When Johnson arrived at Arizona, he did so with the understanding that he has been the best player nearly every time he steps on the court.
That may continue to be the case, but it is not as cut and dry as it was in high school.
“There was a transition,” Johnson said. “I think it happened at the camps this summer and getting used to the size on the court and getting used to the length and how people rotate. The confidence I had in high school knowing where people were going to be at.
“Now I think I have that down and just have to apply it here and that comes with more reps of playing against people of the same level.
“I did all of the Lebron, Adidas tournaments and the one thing I found out is that there are a lot of good players in college basketball and you can’t take any plays off. The second thing I learned is you have to play hard every possession. Having to compete every day against those guys, you learn that is something you will see every day.”
Johnson did not arrive to Arizona with the belief that he did not need any improvement, and the first step was getting into better shape.
“I feel a lot faster, stronger to the basket,” he said. “I feel a lot more in shape and athletic. I have never lifted before, so I didn't know what it would do to my body.
“I know I didn't want to gain any more weight and get slower. I had a conversation with them when I got here and they told me that they will get my weight better and make me a little faster and jump a little higher. I have had a great experience with the weight program.”
In addition, Johnson had to adjust to a defense that he had never played.
“That was the main change,” Johnson said. “Not the rotation, but learning the pack line. At high school we were usually the athletically superior team, so we could scheme differently and not guard some players, shoot the lanes.
“I had a bad habit of shooting the lane. I would get all the way up in the lane in high school and that is one of the things I am working on for off the ball defense.
“At Arizona, Coach Miller told me I don’t have to go all the way in the lane, I could just stay in the pack line. That made things a lot easier, but it is hard to get used to because usually if someone sets a screen I would shoot the gap and stay there, but now I can just stay around my spot.”
Johnson has gotten to work with Miller at USA basketball, but has had a closer and more personal relationship upon arriving at Arizona.
“He’s a monster,” Johnson said of Miller. “Recruiting me he told me about it, but getting to experience on an every day basis what he said in the recruiting stuff, he is applying it.
“When I got here, I knew he was for real. That is what I want out of this thing. I want to be coached and instructed and that is what he is doing.”
As the season goes on, Miller hopes that each player will have a defined role. For Johnson, that role will be whatever his head coach wants it to be.
“I think I bring a lot of things to the team,” he said. “I can facilitate the ball, play defense, score the ball, bring confidence and attitude, and I think leadership as a freshman.
“Whatever the team needs. I feel I am a jack of all trades in that area where I can kind of fill in for what we are lacking at the time.”
In order to do that, Johnson is not worrying about the title or position he is listed at.
“That’s not anything I can control,” he said. “The only person that controls that is Coach Miller. Every guy here can play two positions at least, so you never know what he might do.
“That’s very big. You saw it last year when Brandon went out. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again, but if it does or I haven’t played well or someone is struggling, you can always put somebody in that knows the position.”
The season has not started yet, but like Aaron Gordon last year, it is inevitable that Johnson will get asked about entering the NBA when the season is over.
“I haven’t played one game or scored one point, so you can’t tell me what I am going to do,” he said. “It is good to have those type of expectations where you are able to be a one and done and do stuff like that, but at the same time I haven’t played one game or scored one point in college, so I don’t know what I am going to do so far.”