Entering his 31st year as head coach at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
, Gary McKnight owns an overall record of 960-85 with 10 state titles. By any measure, he's among the most successful coaches in high school basketball history.
Under McKnight the Monarchs have achieved a numbing level of consistency, winning 30 or more games each of the past nine seasons.
Fueling optimism to extend that streak to an even 10 years is the presence of MaxPreps first team All-American Stanley Johnson
, who may be the master teacher's greatest student. Johnson outshined senior star Aaron Gordon in last year's CIF Open Division title game and was named National Junior of the Year by MaxPreps
. The 6-foot-7 power guard averaged 19.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
Most impressively, Mater Dei is 100-7 since Johnson joined the program as a freshman. He has started for three consecutive state championship teams and aims to make it four this year while operating as the team's point guard.
Joining Johnson in the backcourt will be transfer Rex Pflueger
, an athletic Top 100 junior who should thrive in Mater Dei's user-friendly offense. Pflueger averaged 11.4 points per game last season as a sophomore for Trinity League rival JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano) and starred over the summer for the Compton Magic club team.
Up front, 6-10 M.J. Cage
will attract much of the attention. McKnight loves what he is seeing from his sophomore star, who is the son of 15-year NBA veteran Michael Cage.
"M.J. is extremely talented," McKnight said. "When Kentucky offers you as a sophomore, you are probably pretty good."
Mater Dei has been a constant in the national championship conversation over the past three seasons, finishing in the Top 10 each year. Upset losses on quick trips east have stung the Monarchs the past two years.
Last year it was a shocking 14-point loss at St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio). In 2012, the Monarchs were tripped up by Gill St. Bernard's (Gladstone, N.J.) at the Cancer Research Classic in West Virginia.
"Staying consistent is not an easy thing," McKnight said. "For everybody we play, this is their biggest game."View a gallery of the Mater Dei preseason photo shootMater Dei last five years:
2012-13 (Gary McKnight) – 34-2, Open Division state champions, No. 4 final Xcellent 25 national ranking
2011-12 (Gary McKnight) – 34-2, Division I state champions, No. 6 final Xcellent 25 national ranking
2010-11 (Gary McKnight) – 32-3, Division I state champions, No. 10 final Xcellent 25 national ranking
2009-10 (Gary McKnight) – 32-2, No. 17 final Xcellent 25 national ranking
2008-09 (Gary McKnight) – 31-2, No. 8 final Xcellent 25 national ranking