Denver Nuggets guard reunited with friend at draft workout
Stone was a lanky point guard who grew up less than 5 minutes from UCSB but accepted a scholarship offer at the University of Texas-El Paso.
Johnson was a solidly built shooting guard who began his college career at Loyola Marymount but transferred to UCSB after his freshman season.
During the summer, they would do conditioning workouts on the beach and then hit the gym for fierce games of 1-on-1 and 5-on-5. The competition and trash talk was so intense that UCSB’s 6,000-seat Thunderdome didn’t always seem big enough for the both of them.
“We were always going at each other to the point where he was getting mad and wanting to fight,” Stone recalled with a smile. “He ended up being one of my best friends.”
The two friends had lunch together in the Denver Nuggets players lounge on Wednesday after Johnson went through a predraft workout at Pepsi Center. The reunion took place less than six months after Stone earned a roster spot with the Nuggets as an undrafted rookie.
Projected as an early second-round pick in the June 28 NBA Draft, Johnson is close to joining in his friend in the pros.
“We talked about that all the time,” Johnson said. “When we played together back home, nobody could stop us. I think we’d be great if we had a chance to play together in the NBA.”
Because of their talent, Johnson and Stone rarely played together during their summer workouts in Santa Barbara. It made for better competition when they would guard each other in 5-on-5 games and play 1-on-1 until exhaustion.
“We wouldn’t leave it in the gym,” Stone said. “Whoever played better that day, you definitely heard it the rest of the day.”
Johnson remembers Stone bringing some of his UTEP teammates into the Thunderdome one day. It wasn’t necessarily a good memory, but it helped spark a friendship built on a love for basketball and competition.
“He came in one time talking real big,” Johnson said. “They were whooping us. I couldn’t deal with it. I said, ‘Get out of my gym!’ That’s just how we played. We loved to compete against each other.”
As Johnson blossomed into UCSB’s career scoring leader, Stone conceded that the Thunderdome indeed belonged to his good friend. He has no doubt that Johnson’s ability will translate well to the NBA.
“From where he first started to where he is today is totally different,” Stone said. “He’s evolved so much. That competitive nature is going to help him at this level.”
Johnson averaged 19.6 points and shot .411 from three-point range in three seasons at Santa Barbara. Stone would love to see him bring his game to Denver; the Nuggets have the 20th, 38th and 50th overall picks in the draft.
“He definitely can score,” Stone said. “His scoring is NBA-type scoring. He can do a lot in the open court.”
Stone then smiled and delivered one more line of trash talk: “But he’s not scoring on me. If he doesn’t come here, I feel bad for him.”
Johnson was among five college prospects who worked out for the Nuggets on Tuesday. Joining him were St. Louis forward Brian Conklin, Baylor forward Quincy Miller, Stanford forward Josh Owens and Grambling State guard Quincy Roberts.
The Nuggets are scheduled to hold a fourth consecutive day of workouts Thursday at Pepsi Center.