At Skyline High, Johnson became the most dominating basketball player in Dallas schoolboy history. Once he helped beat Dallas Jesuit without taking a shot. "He wanted to prove we weren't a one-man team," says Skyline coach J.D. Mayo.
Johnson struggled academically, reading at only a fifth-grade level as a senior. He wanted to attend SMU. The first time he took the SAT he scored below 700, the minimum needed to be eligible as a freshman. When he retook the test, he scored above 700, but SMU doubted the score, judging that he had improved too much, and ruled that he wouldn't be allowed to play as a freshman. So Johnson enrolled at Odessa (Texas) Junior College, where he increased his reading capability to a 12th-grade level and scored 25.2 points a game during his two years at the school.
"I loved junior college," says Johnson. "I look at my classes here, and I know I couldn't have kept up my grades coming right out of high school. I tell possible Prop. 48 guys, 'Don't go to a [four-year] school and sit out. It sets you back.' "
Augmon was a Prop. 48 guy when he arrived at Vegas in 1986, after being overshadowed by an array of California schoolboy blue-chippers—Trevor Wilson (later of UCLA), Chris Munk (USC), Scott Williams (North Carolina) and Stevie Thompson (Syracuse)—during his senior year at Muir High in Pasadena. "But Stacey was the only guy who would stick his nose in there to guard [6'9" playground legend] Clifford Allen," says UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgurich.
Like Johnson, Augmon was raised in a one-parent household, and he, too, could have easily made a wrong turn, were it not for Laurant Brown, a landscape architect who befriended him. "[Brown] emphasized academics and served as a role model," says Glenn Marx, Augmon's summer-league coach. "He made him study, got him to eat vegetables. That sounds like a father to me."
In his initial season of eligibility, Augmon started at point guard in his first few games and ended up playing all five positions during the season. He held the explosive Macon to 9-of-22 shooting in UNLV's upset of No. 1 Temple. Last season he limited Macon to 4 of 22 from the floor in another Rebel victory. "It's not just his quickness and jumping ability," says Tarkanian. "We depend on our guys to play the ball individually. Stacey's technique is just the best. When his mind's in the game, he can guard anybody."
Augmon's virtual shutdown of Arizona's Elliott in the 1989 NCAA tournament might be the best defensive performance of the '80s. A photo of Augmon chesting up against Elliott graces the cover of a book on defense put together by Tarkanian for his coaching clinics. Still, Augmon isn't all that impressed with himself. "People hype individual defense too much," he says. "I get a lot of help."
Augmon had gotten valuable practice as an Olympian in 1988, checking everyone from 6'10" Danny Manning to 6'3" Hersey Hawkins, but his Olympic experience was not entirely positive. He returned from Seoul with a different persona. No longer the fresh-faced college kid, he was suddenly withdrawn, surly, uncommunicative toward the press.
Coach John Thompson had chosen him for the team as a defensive specialist but had played him only sparingly. Feeling disgraced, Augmon either lost his bronze medal in Seoul or left it there on purpose. "I take losses hard," he says. "But it's not right to say I was a fluke pick for the team. I don't fault Coach Thompson's not playing me much. I'd come out of the games and he'd pat me on the head and make me feel good. The medal? I just misplaced it, that's all."
Some Rebelologists say Thompson's distrust of the human race filtered through to the impressionable young player. In any case, midway through last season, after the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a detailed survey of the expensive cars belonging to UNLV players—Augmon drove a 1988 Ford Mustang GT, Johnson a 1989 Nissan 300ZX—Augmon's surliness spread throughout the team, even to the cheery Johnson, who briefly stopped talking to the local media. "In a contest of personalities, I think Stacey's would be stronger than Larry's," says a man close to both. "He'd lead, Larry would follow."