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A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC
Ervin Johnson, a 6'11" sophomore center for New Orleans, is starting to make a name for himself, which is no small feat considering that there's already an Earvin Johnson, a.k.a. Magic, with whom you may be more familiar. Though Ervin may always be best known for not being Earvin, the Privateers aren't complaining.
Johnson is one of the biggest reasons that the Privateers had a 15-game winning streak and a 15-2 record through Sunday and were on top of the American South Conference with a 5-0 record. After averaging only 6.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game last year, Johnson was leading his league in rebounding (13.8), blocked shots (2.6) and field goal percentage (63.0%), and scoring 13.4 points a game. It's no coincidence that the Privateers lost their first two games this season: Johnson missed all of the first game and half of the second with a broken right wrist. He still plays with two pins in his wrist.
"It's been plain hard work," Johnson says of his improvement. "I would spend three or four hours in the weight room or with the coaches working on moves. I had to make up for a lot of lost time."
Johnson, who quit the basketball team at Block High in Jonesville, La., in the 10th grade because the sport "just wasn't that important to me," is 23 years old. He worked for 2� years in a grocery store after graduation, but when he grew to 6'11" (he was 6'3" when he finished high school), he was encouraged to take up the game again. He walked into New Orleans coach Tim Floyd's office unannounced on the final day of the November signing period in 1988 and introduced himself as Ervin Johnson Jr. After Floyd confirmed that this wasn't a joke, he gave Johnson a scholarship on the spot. Johnson then spent a redshirt year learning the fundamentals of post play. "It's amazing [what he has done] when you consider that he didn't know what a pivot foot was when he came here," says former New Orleans assistant Scott Sanderson.
Johnson doesn't pattern his game after anyone, but there is one NBA player he wants to meet. "I'd like to see the look on Magic's face," he says, "if I walked up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Ervin Johnson.' "
RETURN OF THE THIN MAN
Utah coach Rick Majerus has transformed last season's mediocre Utes (16-14) into the leaders of the Western Athletic Conference (6-0 in the WAC, 17-1 overall through Sunday). That turnaround is almost as remarkable as the makeover Majerus has done on himself.
Majerus had coached only six games last season, his first at Utah after arriving from Ball State, when he was diagnosed with blockages in his heart that would require seven individual bypass grafts. His heart condition also meant that he had to shed a lot of weight, which the 5'11" Majerus says was "somewhere around 275 pounds," the result of some legendary late-night eating binges.
"I shopped for my clothes at the local tent-and-awning supply house," he says. Majerus, 42, has lost about 50 pounds by running four to five miles a day and observing a diet that "limits me to one pizza a month. I used to eat two a night."