When your namesake is remembered as one of the greatest athletes in the last century, one whose nickname literally was “The Greatest,” it’s safe to say you’ve got plenty to live up to.
Harvard Westlake basketball star Cassius Stanley may just be able to live up to the hype, and then some.
The sophomore comes to the valley this week for the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational with his Wolverines as the No. 9 sophomore basketball player in the country – including the second-best shooting guard and the second-overall California recruit.
Already, though, he can call himself a state champion, and with just under three years of high school left, there’s no telling how far this high-flying, flashy, well-polished shooting guard will end up once college comes around.
A year ago, Stanley was merely a freshman with lots of potential, but with six seniors on the Wolverines’ roster, he didn’t have to do much more than shoot – or dunk, when given the chance. His jumper helped pave the way for Harvard Westlake to catch fire late in the season and win 11 of their last 12 en route to a California Division 4 state championship.
After living up to the hype in such a manner, the college offers started pouring in, reaching eight right now, including both major programs not too far down the street in UCLA and USC. Add to it being asked to not only score, but take on a head leadership role for a team that can’t soar much higher, and some kids would either crumble or let their heads explode.
But at school and in the locker room, Stanley finds a chance to blend in.
“School keeps me grounded,” he said. “Just being with my teammates, they keep me grounded. I’m just Cassius to them.”
On the court, though, Stanley’s more dangerous soaring through the air. He’s lethal with the ball in his hands, a threat to pull up from almost anywhere beyond half court. Driving through the lane, once he leaves his feet, he’s a threat to dish to one of his teammates or find a seam for a layup.
When he doesn’t have the ball, make sure a man is tight on him. One nod of his head towards the basket, and teammates will toss it in the vicinity of the basket, trusting Stanley can catch it and slam the alley oop home.
The scary thing is, after watching him throw down a between-the-legs thunderous slam midway through the first half against La Quinta on Monday: the sophomore rarely works on his dunking skills.
“It just came easy the summer going into sixth grade,” he said. “I just started dunking. My mom ran track, so I don’t really have to work much on my athleticism.”
His 28 points, seven rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block exude a do-it-all style of his favorite player, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who’s taken the NBA by storm this season in a quest to single-handedly take his team back to the promise land they inched so close to a year ago.
In a similar way, Stanley, armed with the name of “The Greatest” and all the swagger that comes with it, is determined to show that as the focal point of the team, the Wolverines can reach the same heights as a year ago.
For now, college decisions can wait. NBA dreams of being the next Westbrook are on hold while Stanley eyes the potential of becoming the undisputed champion of the Class of 2019.
“He (Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay) was a cocky person, but he backed it up,” Stanley said. “I’m not trying to be as cocky as him, but I still want to have the same confidence and swagger and back it up with my play.”
About Cassius Stanley
Team: Harvard Westlake
Year: Sophomore, Class of 2019
Position: Shooting guard
Rankings: No. 9 overall in the country (ESPN), No. 2 shooting guard in his class
Scholarship offers: UCLA, USC, UNLV, Arizona, Arizona State, Long Beach State, Alabama, LSU
When he plays next: Tuesday: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Bellevue (Wash.) in the Rancho Mirage main gym