There are numerous players returning home to play at the Staples Center on Thursday, but none may be getting as much attention as Stanley Johnson.
“I think it means a lot,” Johnson said. “It's always a goal of mine to play in the Sweet Sixteen. It's always a goal of mine to play in a tournament like this and be on a stage like this.
”For it to happen and be at home, I was at the game last year in Anaheim when the guys had to come home again and play one of the biggest games of the season in California, which is home for me. So I was like, I want to get back to here.
“When I saw the schedule in Los Angeles, it was obviously a goal of mine to get back. But now it's about Xavier. It would really be bad to come here and take a loss. We're trying to win games, so it's not about being at home or anything like that. It's about winning games.”
Johnson feels he was prepared for college but admits that even Mater Dei couldn’t make him ready for everything he has faced.
“In my opinion, Coach McKnight prepares you, I think, probably the best for college,” Johnson said. “But it's different when you get to college and you have to be able to conform to what is around you.
“I think I came here with an open mind and I asked to be coached. Having guys like these two guys next to me (McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson) that are always there for me in my baddest days and able to be there and lead me.
“Rondae, people always say Rondae was similar to how I was coming in as a freshman, so I learned a lot from him as well as T.J. But I think at the end of the day, it was Coach Miller. When we talked and we said stuff on the court, like I really believed in what he had to say and that's what it's about. If you can do that, you can succeed anywhere.”
Miller agrees that Johnson has done well this season in becoming a better teammate and dealing with life as a freshman.
“Stanley, the one thing about him is almost from the very second he stepped on campus, he was so decorated,” Miller said. “Four State Championships in the state of California, playing at Mater Dei, and all of the accolades were deservedly so when you look at everything he has done before he got here.
“But you forget when these guys are in college basketball that they're still 18. If we had the opportunity to be around Stanley for three or four years, a lot of the things that you watch him deal with as a freshman, you almost come to say, well, of course, he's a freshman.
“Because you know his time in college won't be as long, you judge him by a different standard. I think Stanley has made all of us better, as coaches, I think he's made his teammates better. But I think the thing that we're the most proud of him is what you asked about.
“That is that he has listened, and he's tried his best to do what we've asked, and I think that's one of the reasons that our team has been so successful this year.”