The Evolution of Mark Stoops and Perfection of Stanley Johnson

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If you’re like me, when UK announced the hiring of Mark Stoops as our next Head Football Coach, I only heard “Stoops” and thought they meant Bob or Mike.  Who knew there was another Stoops?  Let alone a major defensive presence in college football?  Not I.  Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal has taken his time to fill us in on who Mark Stoops is and how he became who he is.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio

Don Bucci’s office at Cardinal Mooney High School, with its wood panel walls and decades-old photos of hometown heroes long forgotten, might as well be a time capsule. Last week, on a hot day in this hardscrabble town, Mark Stoops popped it open and traveled back to his beginnings.

Inside, the 46-year-old University of Kentucky football coach walked past a picture of his 17-year-old self, frozen in 1984 with a slimmer waistline and much fuller, redder hair. Stoops headed straight for the closet where Bucci, Mooney’s longtime coach and now its athletic director, keeps the truly ancient treasure.

One wall is lined with tins of 16-millimeter film from games of decades ago. On a shelf in the back corner, Stoops found a projector. His late father, Ron, the defensive coordinator who helped Bucci win four state championships, used to bring home this machine and project film on the family refrigerator.

Stoops unpacked it on Bucci’s desk, took the clicker in his hand and pretended to rewind the same clip over and over again, as his dad used to do during family dinners in the dark. Stoops imagined he was back on Detroit Avenue, where two parents and six children shared a three-bedroom Cape Cod on the south side of Youngstown — all four boys crammed into a single dormitory-style room.

“This is where it all started,” Stoops said. “This is where we learned to watch film. It brings you back to your roots. I think this was part of our destiny.”

 

As is the inevitable, recruiting still is a driving force behind the summer reporting and Calipari is always mentioned among the most elite players.  Enter Stanley Johnson.  The #8 2014 prospect according to Rivals and Scout put on a show at the Peach Jam tournament and, as Mike DeCourcy put it, “he’s probably not the best basketball prospect nationally in the 2014 class, but he might be closest to perfect.”  Of course he is.  Hence the John Calipari recruitment.  And Mr. Johnson is in no hurry to make a decision.

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C.—Of all the various descriptions one might encounter from a college basketball coach regarding an elite high school basketball player, this one about California small forward Stanley Johnson truly was unique.

“Everything you think of in a modern-day kid, he doesn’t have,” the coach said.

He meant this as a supreme complement. There is no entourage, no entitlement, no bad body language, no selfishness. Johnson stands 6-7, weighs 220 pounds, jumps high, runs fast, shoots like Kevin Durant and rebounds like Kevin McHale.

Johnson will be a senior at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., this fall. He has won a state championship in each of the prior three seasons. Last year at Nike’s EYBL at the Peach Jam, Johnson and the Oakland Soldiers were the overall champions.

The ideal way to describe him is this: He probably is not the best basketball prospect nationally in the 2014 class, but he might be the closest to perfect.

In the final game of Peach Jam pool play Saturday morning, both Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and John Calipari of Kentucky found a spot at the end of the curtain separating them where Chicago big men Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander and the court where Johnson and the Soldiers were finishing off top point guard Tyus Jones and the Howard Pulley Panthers.

“It shows they have appreciation for multiple players on the court,” Johnson said. “You notice it, but you’re in the game, you want to win games. I know where they all stand with me. I don’t think it’s going to change if I have a bad game. So I’m not really worried about that. I see them on the sideline, or if the ball goes over there. If the ball never went that way, I’d never look at them.

“It’s always good when they come to your games and watch you play. There’s a lot of prospects in this gym—and everywhere else—they could be at right now.”

Ranked the No. 8 player in the 2014 class by Scout and Rivals—and maybe a shade underrated by both—Johnson led all scorers at the Peach Jam with a 25.6 average in five games. He also was third in rebounding at 10.2 per game, slightly ahead of both Okafor and Alexander. Although, to be fair, those two had to fight each other for rebounds as well as the opposing team.

Johnson is considering attending Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon, UCLA and USC. He will not rush into a decision, intending to make his recruiting visits and then to pick a school around January.

“I’ll sign in the late period, to give myself as much time to think as possible, make sure it’s the right decision,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot of coaches get jobs right after the season. They end up transferring—and I’m stuck. Know what I’m saying?

“The late period will give me a chance to think about it, sleep on it, talk to my parents about it, see how I feel, see what changes. I’m not going to worry about anybody going to the NBA or saying it, because that’s going to happen. I’ll just worry about myself, try to get better every game.”

Looking ahead to the 2015 class, Coach Cal has his eye on Ohio product, Mark Kennard.  If you’ve never heard of him don’t sweat because neither had I, but he has the attention of notable coaches such as Coach K and Tom Izzo.  It appears that UK, who hasn’t offered, could have a leg up based on some regional ties re: his father.

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Mark Kennard’s high school basketball career in Franklin, Ohio led him to a college basketball career in Central Kentucky.

There’s a chance his son Luke could follow that same path.

The elder Kennard graduated from Franklin High School — about 40 miles north of Cincinnati — in 1981. Mark had a few college offers, and he chose to play at Georgetown College for the late Jim Reid.

One of Reid’s assistants during that time was Happy Osborne, who succeeded Reid as head coach of the Tigers and led the team to great success over 15 seasons.

Osborne and Kennard kept in touch over the years, and shortly after Osborne accepted the head coaching job at Kentucky Wesleyan earlier this year he gave his former player a call.

The subject of the conversation was Luke Kennard, a 6-foot-5 guard in the class of 2015.

“I talked to Happy three or four weeks ago,” Kennard said. “He said, ‘Let me make it official: Kentucky Wesleyan is offering. Make sure it’s on the list of his finalists.'”

UK Coach John Calipari and assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne have been in the stands at the Nike Peach Jam over the past few days to see Luke play with the King James Shooting Stars’ 16-and-under team.

Scout.com considers Kennard the No. 18 overall player and No. 4 shooting guard in his class. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Mike Brey and Mick Cronin were among the many other head coaches who watched him play at Peach Jam.

Kentucky hasn’t offered Kennard yet, but there’s definitely some mutual interest.

UK’s coaches invited the smooth-shooting lefty to visit the Lexington campus more than a year ago. He and his parents made the trip, which included a talk with Calipari.

“They just wanted me to come down and look around and talk to the coaches,” Luke said. “I went in Coach Cal’s office and he just talked about different stuff. He was straightforward with me and said this program’s not for everybody. You have to have that certain mentality to come here and play.”

Calipari found a willing recruit in Kennard, who grew up rooting for the UK basketball team despite living in the Buckeye State.

“I always loved Tayshaun Prince,” he said. “He was my favorite player in college.”

Now, the Kennard family has lots of favorites.

Luke already has scholarship offers from Ohio State (his other childhood rooting interest), Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati, among others.

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