CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV. 30 -- The Virginia Cavaliers met up with a guy named Ervin Johnson here tonight, and watched in horror as Johnson and his New Orleans teammates pulled off a magical 60-55 upset, spoiling the University Hall debut of first-year head coach Jeff Jones.
The 6-foot-11 Johnson, who is not related to the Los Angeles Lakers' point guard, did a fare imitation -- scoring 9 points, hauling in a game-high 12 rebounds, and adding 3 assists and 4 blocked shots. New Orleans Coach Tim Floyd continued to gaze in disbelief at the 23-year-old sophomore, who played no high school basketball and walked into his office two years ago after working for three years at a New Orleans grocery store.
"He said he had met one of our alums in the grocery store and that his name was Ervin Johnson," Floyd said. "I thought it was some kind of joke. He said he'd never played and that he wanted a scholarship. Our biggest player at the time was six-four and I said what the heck. If it doesn't work, we could stick him in junior college."
Johnson grew eight inches after graduating from high school, and told Floyd he was tired of bagging groceries. "He just wanted a degree," Floyd said. "Everyone knocks college athletics, but this is what it's all about. He has a chance to be a very good player some day."
Johnson provided the kind of inside domination that stands to wreak havoc all season on 16th-ranked Virginia's smaller lineup.
Both teams put on a display of wretched shooting in the first half, combining for 15 points in the first 10 minutes of play.
But New Orleans (1-2) outrebounded Virginia, 36-19, and never trailed after taking a 19-17 lead late in the first half.
"Any time a team has that much size, it's going to be a concern," said a noticeably dejected Jones.
"New Orleans is a good team, but we weren't mentally prepared and didn't give them the respect they deserved. They aren't a good shooting team, they just kept pulling the offensive rebounds. Sooner or later they were going to make it."
Jones suspended freshmen Cornel Parker, Corey Stewart and Derrick Johnson for the game following what he called unspecified "team rules violations."
Jones said all three would play here Saturday against Winthrop.