For decades upon decades, high school basketball in Southern California has been frequently dominated by a private school in Santa Ana.
Mater Dei High has been a basketball powerhouse both within the state of California and nationally for over 30 years. The private school has produced nine NBA players, over 75 Division 1 college players, and 23 CIF Player’s of the Year.
Mater Dei has won 11 State Championships, 22 CIF Championships, and 32 league titles, all under the leadership of their legendary head coach, Coach McKnight. Coach McKnight is the winningest coach on a percentage basis with 92%, which is the highest in history of high school basketball.
All of these accomplishments make Mater Dei an enticing option for up-and-coming ballers in the greater Los Angeles area, and for one kid from Fullerton, make their hoop dreams a reality.
In the spring of 1996, Stanley Johnson was born in Anaheim and would be raised in Fullerton by his mother, Karen Taylor. Ms. Taylor played college basketball at Jackson State, inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, and then traveled to play professionally in Europe.
Ms. Taylor instilled her hardworking and competitive spirit in Johnson from a young age, and he took his mother’s teaching and advice to heart. Johnson was coached and trained by his mother to become the best possible player and person he could be, both on and off the court.
In 2010, Johnson decided he would showcase his hard work and tenacity at Mater Dei. As a freshman, he played a big role in what was a state championship season for the monarchs. Johnson then earned a gold medal in the 2011 FIBA America 16u championship, which only motivated him to work even harder entering his sophomore year.
Johnson’s sophomore season was very solid as he averaged 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. Johnson and his teammates led the 2011-12 Monarchs to a 34-2 overall record, a state championship, and a CIF Title. He also traveled to Lithuania in 2012 and won yet another gold medal for the U.S.
Going into his junior season, Johnson was determined to continue his competitive greatness and did just that, raising all of his game-by-game stats. For the 2012-13 season, Johnson put up 19.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.2 steals a game. These statistics proved how hard he had been working and that trying to contain him and the rest of the Monarchs would be no easy task. Johnson and his teammates were nearly unstoppable, as Mater Dei posted a 34-2 record and grabbed yet another state ring.
To finish off his remarkable high school career, Johnson put up unbelievable numbers and led the Monarchs to a 2014 MaxPreps National Championship. He averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game during his senior campaign, which earned him countless awards and honors.
Johnson became one of the only high school basketball players in the state of California to win 4 CIF State Championships in his four-year high school career. He was named as a 2014 USA Today First Team All-USA selection, won the award for California’s Mr. Basketball, and also captured the 3rd gold medal of his high school career, winning the FIBA America 18u Championship MVP in the process. Additionally, Johnson was chosen to play in the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game, the 2014 Jordan Brand Classic, and in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Johnson finished his career at Mater Dei as arguably the best player to ever come through the distinguished school, with a lethal combination of relentless tenacity and an unmatched competitiveness to win at all costs.
Johnson was heavily recruited by schools all around the country, and he decided to take his talents to the University of Arizona. In 2014-15 as a freshman for the Wildcats, Johnson put up just over 13 points and 6 rebounds per contest. He was voted First-Team All-Pac 12, was selected as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and won the prestigious Julius Erving Award as the top small forward in college basketball.
Arizona made a deep run into the NCAA Tournament but fell short of a trip to the Final Four. Johnson decided to declare for the NBA Draft after his first season with the Wildcats. In April 2015, Johnson made his intentions official, forgoing his last three years of college.
On June 25, 2015, with his mother at his side, Johnson was selected with the 8th overall pick in 2015 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. All of the blood, sweat, and tears he had put in his whole life were realized in one incredible moment, as he was officially welcomed into the NBA.
In an interview with tuscon.com, Johnson’s mother explained her son’s long and hard-fought journey to all of this on court success.
“I trained him since he was 5 years old,” she said. “I trained and prayed that he would become a better basketball player than myself and that one day he would be able to choose (a college) and make it in the NBA.”
Throughout all of his success and accolades, Johnson has always referred to that determination instilled in him by his mother as to why he has continued to improve over the years.
This admirable connection between Johnson and his mother made the entire basketball world gather behind him when the toughest of times suddenly hit. Ms. Taylor passed away on Aug. 1, 2015, which was then confirmed by Johnson in a tweet, one day later. This unbearable event shook him and his family, along with the entire Mater Dei, University of Arizona, and NBA communities.
With his mother close to his heart, Johnson had a very successful rookie year in the NBA. He averaged 8 points per game for the Pistons, playing his heart out every time he touched the floor.
Johnson is a kid from Fullerton who made his dreams a reality. People along the way may have doubted him, but he let nothing stop him from achieving the goal he and his mother set from the time he was 5 years old. He became one of the best players to ever come out of California, and is now living out his dream by playing in the NBA.
Mater Dei High is the school of the Monarchs, and Johnson perfectly embodies everything you would envision in a successful Monarch graduate. All of the great things he has accomplished in his basketball career, along with the tragedy of his mother’s passing, have made him an unbelievably strong person both on and off the court. With his mother forever by his side, Stanley Johnson undoubtedly possesses the heart of a Monarch.