Stanley Johnson sure doesn’t look 19 and rarely does he speak like the college sophomore he’d be if not for landing a pretty nice full-time job already. He’s been mature beyond his years for … well, years. But he had to grow up a little more in a life’s-not-fair moment earlier this month when he lost his mother, Karen Taylor, to cancer.
“It’s been tough,” he said Thursday after a workout at the Pistons practice facility. “I had a couple of family things going on, but I’m a professional. I have a job. So I handle my family stuff. I got a lot of help, as well. That’s something that will always be, the rest of my life, but I’m doing my job now. It is what it is.”
Johnson’s relationship with Andre Drummond dates to their AAU basketball days and that’s deepened since the June draft. The two trained together, along with Pistons second-rounder Darrun Hilliard, at Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif., this summer. Drummond has invited Johnson to move in with him for his rookie season.
“It’s unique,” he said of their relationship. “I’ve known Andre for a while and to be on the same team is almost kind of weird. It’s like, look where life has taken us. He wants me to live with him this year, so that should be interesting to see what happens there. That’s one of my really good friends.”
Though training camp doesn’t start until late September, Johnson won’t lack for a circle of support anytime soon. He’s been working out at the practice facility all week with Hilliard, Adonis Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie. Drummond has also been in town this week, while Aron Baynes is working out though not yet cleared for basketball work as he recovers from a minor cleanup procedure on his ankle.
At the end of the month, virtually the entire team will gather in Las Vegas for a bonding exercise centered on MMA training. For the next three weeks leading to camp, they’ll be together working out in Auburn Hills.
Johnson has built off of his exceptional Summer League performance, working on his shot with new Pistons shooting coach Dave Hopla and on his body at the Santa Barbara-based P3.
“They create machines out there,” Johnson said of his time at P3. “I had some problems with my trunk and I feel like I’m jumping way higher just from the six weeks I was with them. I did two extra to tighten things up. I think I got better every time I went out there.”
Johnson scoffed at his ranking as the best rookie in Orlando or Las Vegas according to NBA.com – “everybody needs a story,” he said – but seemed to put a little more stock in the survey of rookies conducted at the NBA-mandated orientation they attended earlier this month.
Johnson was voted No. 2 in Rookie of the Year balloting to Jahlil Okafor, No. 5 in which rookie will have the best career and No. 2 in best defender.
“We actually voted on stuff like that,” he said. “That’s the respect we have in our class. I thought it was more of a private thing, but I guess it went public. That has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong, it’s just the respect you have among your class. To have that respect among your class means a lot to me.”
Johnson wasn’t shy about proclaiming himself best in class at the NBA draft combine in May, which reflects his boundless confidence more than braggadocio. He’s equally bullish on his team’s prospects.
“People say, ‘Our goal is to make the playoffs.’ We’re trying to win the championship,” Johnson said. “That should be every team’s goal. If you go into the season trying to win a playoff game or get to the playoffs, I think you’re holding yourself short. No one’s fighting for eighth place. I’ve been working out all summer. Andre’s been doing the same. A lot of guys have been doing the same. We know we’re not doing it to finish last. We’re trying to finish first.”