Selfless, with a p.r. smile, Johnson has a lot of another Johnson in him, namely Magic. He took himself out of last season's UNLV-Louisville game in the early going because it was Senior Day for Vegas, and he wanted Moses Scurry, a senior, to get more playing time. "[Johnson's] ego is not involved in the game," says UC Santa Barbara coach Jerry Pimm. "He'll talk at you once in a while—he gets that little street thing going—but he is a good person."
"I just wished he'd stop smiling at us over there on the bench," said former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano last season. "It's bad enough he's tearing us up without him enjoying it so much."
In basketball's peculiar parlance, Augmon is a "small" forward at 6'8", 206 pounds—"a nail," says Johnson with a laugh—who likewise has a style and a language all his own. Formerly a horrendous outside shooter, Augmon has worked on his touch to the point where now, at least, his teammates don't snicker at his marksmanship. He averaged 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds last season and had a 33-point, 11-rebound highlight film of a game in UNLV's 131-101 rout of Loyola-Marymount in the NCAAs. Yet defense is Augmon's meal ticket—oppressive, shockingly vicious (for someone so laid back), I-am-going-to-leave-you-here-to-slowly-rot-in-the-desert defense. Augmon is the ultimate all-court college stopper of his era, having won the Henry Iba Corinthian Award as the best defender in the land the season before last.
Georgetown's twin blockade of Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo may be a shooter's worst nightmare, but for face-up, man-to-man pressure, no one checks better than the spidery Augmon, who has silenced every species from point guard to center, from Arizona's Sean Elliott to Temple's Mark Macon to his own buddy Johnson. "Stacey knows that if I'm guarding him in one-on-one, he's going to get fouled," Johnson says, again laughing. "But him on me, it's no joke. I can't get around him. If I do it once, I'm happy. My advice to guys playing him: Don't think. Just do. Or he'll eat you alive."
"Aw, Larry's too tough," says Augmon in mutual admiration. "He sticks [gets his shot off against] me. He's the only guy strong enough to stick me."
That Johnson and Augmon didn't leave UNLV is more a tribute to Tarkanian's Father Flanagan-type bonding than to any hold college life might have on the pair. Following the NCAA's decision, pro teams in Italy and Spain dangled millions of dollars in front of each of them. Furthermore, the six Rebel seniors—four of whom are starters—could have transferred to another school and played their final season together, vying for a second championship somewhere else. (Now we're talking real history.)
Some combination of UNLV, Tarkanian and Good Old Basketball Jones rescued Johnson and Augmon from a probable life of street crime, to which both admit they were headed. Johnson grew up in South Dallas, where amid broken windows and broken dreams many of his friends became crack dealers. "If ever there was a ghetto scene, Larry is from [one]," says Alex (Mud) Gillum, who coaches at Roosevelt High in Dallas. "It's as if they picked this place up from New York and set it down here."
When Johnson returns to play summer pickup games, the drug trade slows while the dealers, bearing noisy beepers, pack the gym to watch. "It's like they're paying tribute [to him]," says Rod Hampton, an area resident who plays at SMU. "If South Dallas had a mayor, it would be Larry. A million guys have tried to come out of there; he made it."
"Those guys are bad, I know," says Johnson of the local illegal drug entrepreneurs. "But they always helped me and always wanted me to do good. They told me when there was something going down. They got me out of there."
Not that Johnson always listened. He stole bicycles and groceries until the day the police bus drove down his street and took him to the station. No charges were filed against Johnson, who was 12 at the time. He did, however, remain at the station until late that night because his mother, Dortha, thought he needed to learn the consequences of his actions.