SANTA ANA -- Most prep basketball teams from this region are lucky to have at least one star player on their roster. A select few programs suited up a pair of standouts in the same uniform. One school, however, was fortunate enough to have a trio of high-profile prospects in their mix: Santa Ana Mater Dei.
When opponents focused their efforts on limiting the effectiveness of Katin Reinhardt, the Monarchs countered with the equally dangerous Xavier Johnson. When defenses shifted toward him, a more-than-capable Stanley Johnson stepped to the forefront.
Slowing down one player was entirely possible. Shutting down two proved to be quite daunting. Completely stopping the Southland's makeshift version of “The Big Three,” albeit on a much smaller scale in comparison to the moniker recently made so well-known in NBA circles, was not met with much success.
“Go ahead, pick your poison,'' said Reinhardt during practice this past week as top-seeded Mater Dei (32-2 overall) prepared for sixth-seeded Fresno Bullard (33-3) in Saturday night's Division I championship game of the Southern California Regional Playoffs at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. The winner advances to next week's CIF State finals in Sacramento.
“We're not trying to be 'The Big Three' from the Boston Celtics, maybe the Miami Heat. Just kidding,'' Stanley Johnson said. “People give us nicknames, we hear the hype about the three of us, but we don't think about it. We're just Katin, Xavier and Stanley.''
Whatever the case, it's difficult to argue with the success the Monarchs have enjoyed this season with Reinhardt, and the Johnsons -- who are not related -- leading the way of course.
They have gone wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20. On the national level, it has been more of the same. Mater Dei is No. 8 in the country by ESPNHS in its latest Powerade Fab 50 rankings.
“We want to leave a legacy as, maybe, the three best players to come through Mater Dei. At same time, we know there is a lot of history at this school,'' Xavier Johnson said. “The big things for us, we're all so competitive and unselfish. Three heads are better than one.''
Each individual has a role, and does it extremely well.
Reinhardt, a guard, extends the defense with a perimeter game that seems limitless at times. The 6-foot-5 senior and UNLV commit averages 18 points. Of his 211 field goals thus far, 90 of his makes have been from beyond the 3-point arc.
There were some questions about the health of Reinhardt after a recent injury. He broke his right thumb and sprained ligaments in the same hand. No matter, he played through the pain and scored 21 points in Tuesday's 75-63 semifinal victory over Los Angeles Loyola.
“When I first found out about the injury, I was told that I was done for the year, I was a little worried'' Reinhardt said. “I had a second, and then, a third opinion though and got some rest. Now, I'm ready to go. There is nothing that is going to keep me out of the lineup and off the court with these guys. We're like 'The Big Three' in a sense, with our own name on it. ''
Xavier Johnson is also a scorer. The 6-6 senior averages 18 points a night as well. Not afraid to to do the dirty work, Johnson averages nine rebounds as well.
Stanley Johnson is the heir apparent. The 6-5 sophomore is a jack-of-all-trades and averages 13 points, seven rebounds and more than two rebounds and steals per game. He has received recruiting interest from several schools and is in constant contact with USC and UCLA.
“When you have three guys, top-notch players like I do in Katin, Xavier and Stanley, they have a way of making me look good,'' Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said. “They are very talented, especially for the high school level. Each kid is tough to deal with.''
Make no mistake, the difference between winning and losing this season has typically boiled down to the collective play of Reinhardt and the Johnsons.
The Monarchs, however, have several other contributors.
Jordan Strawberry, son of former major leaguer Darryl Strawberry, is the point guard. Elijah Brown, son of Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown, is usually the first player off the bench. Eli Stalzer and Mario Soto are also part of the rotation.
Nevertheless, Mater Dei's big three receive most of the headlines.
“That nickname is funny, we've heard some whispers about it before,'' Xavier Johnson said. “I think that we have our own identity, each one of us. But we don't mind sharing the spotlight, that comes from being around each other, on and off the court. If one of us does well in a game, we all do well. That's important. That's what has worked out for us so far.''
It has, indeed, worked out particularly well so far.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.