"Swirvin Irvin" and "I in the Sky" are not characters from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Of course, University of Scranton (Pa.) basketball sensation Irvin Johnson, who never fails to live up to any of his unique nicknames, sometimes resembles an alien being with his space moves around and over the rim.
The multitalented 6-foot-5 190-pound Johnson, a basketball and track star at Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro three years ago, was just what the doctor ordered as far as Scranton coach Robert Bessior was concerned.
The Royals, led by the sometimes uncontrolled but always exciting Johnson, his older brother Phil, and Paul Miernicki, ran up a 27-5 won-lost mark two years ago and whipped small-college power Wittenberg, 60-57, in overtime to win the NCAA Division III national championship.
Johnson averaged 13.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game despite going through what Bessior describes as "the freshman slump and adjustment period."
"Our system is a very controlled one and when Irvin came here, he was more of a free-lance player," said Bessior, who's in his sixth year. "But he was quite knowledgable about the game and soon began to adjust to us. We knew it wouldn't be long before he became a starter. Then, he was considered the baby of the group."
Johnson has matured in more ways than one. He averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in leading the Royals to a 24-8 mark and a third place finish in the Division III national championships last year and was selected small-college All-America.
"That was big honor considering I wasn't All-Met in high school," said Johnson. "I sort of went crazy my senior year and scored 26 points a game. I was a little disappointed I didn't get selected to play in the Capital Classic. I thought I should have been . I played in the preliminary game and did fine."
The high-leaping Johnson won't be overlooked any time soon. In fact, Scranton was selected in the preseason as the No. 1-ranked Division III team in the nation. With his team, 8-1, the happy-go-lucky Johnson is already off to a flying start, averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per contest.
"We lost our opener to St. Bonaventure, 84-74. But I considered it a win for us since they made statements like 'if we don't win by 25 points, it's not worth anything,'" said Johnson. "We should have won the game anyway."
The Bonnies are the only Division I team the Royals will meet this season so loss No. 2 may be a longtime coming.
A power forward Johnson should be even more effective this reason since he has developed a better outside shot. In any case, it's a good bet the junior will erase all of the school's scoring and rebounding records before he leaves.
He already has 1,051 points and 707 rebounds. Phil Johnson has a total of 1,074 points. Gene Mumford is the school's scoring leader with 1,901 points while Bill Witaconis is the No. 1 rebounder with 1,018 retrieves.
"He should break them both," said Bessior. "Right now, the team is going to him much more. He's definitely our best player."
Johnson has already claimed two school records - the most blocked shots in a game (seven) and the most rejects in a year (81). He also finished fifth in the nation last year with a .625 shooting percentage from the field.
"I have to work on a few points in my game," said Johnson. "I guess I have pro aspirations and in order to have a good shot, you should be strong in all areas."
Bessior didn't have to give Johnson the nickel-dime sales pitch to sell him on the city, once referred to as the leading coal-mining city in the world.
"I have played with my brother since seventh grade and I wanted to keep playing with him," Johnson added. "Plus, our parents can see us at the same time. I did take a few other trips so I wouldn't be blind but I liked Scranton and the people. Phil's leaving this year and I'll sure miss him."
Wilbert Truman, who coached the brothers at Douglass, said both possessed natural talent and is not surprised to see them doing so well.
"Irvin was always a dominate force on the boards and very quick," said Truman. "Both were smart and very coachable. I think Irvin, in particular has a good shot at the pros."
Johnson, the high school Maryland state champion in the triple jump (46-6) one year, is majoring in human services and plans to go into social work if the pro dream doesn't come true.
The brothers are extremely close although the younger Johnson said "Phil won't pass me the ball simply because we're related.
"He won't do that," repeated Johnson, laughing.
When asked how he grew almost four inches taller than his older brother, Johnson let out a hearty laugh and siad, "Well, he's bowlegged and I guess that's where the other inches went."