After his junior season with the West Geauga Wolverines, forward Josh Irwin was on top of the world.
After the Wolverines defeated Edgewood on Feb. 28, 2020 in the Division II Ashtabula sectional finals, the 6-foot-7 junior forward got a phone call. His father, Doug, an assistant coach on the team, broke the news to his son that he had just broken the all-time scoring record in school history. Irwin’s 18 points in that game put his scoring total at 1,287 points, just one point ahead of Andy Suttel’s scoring record set in 1988.
Although West Geauga’s season came to end in the district semifinals against Lutheran East, Irwin made the plans for his future when he committed to Youngstown State University.
Irwin still had one more year to put the finishing touches on an already historic athletic career at West Geauga. He was already making plans to eclipse the 2,000 point mark in his final year. So far, it had been a fun ride as he averaged 18.9 points and 12.6 rebounds a game through his first three years.
Irwin said a huge part of his success was thanks to Javorek. They had built a strong relationship since they met when he tagged along with his father to varsity practices when he was still at Mayfield Middle School.
Javorek said he knew Irwin would be a special player from the first time he saw him play.
“He was not just a big kid playing with little kids,” explained the five-year West Geauga coach. “He was a big kid in the middle that played inside-outside, and was highly skilled more so than any other kid at his age and that’s kind of how a kid stands out. Not only was he big but he was very, very skilled, he shot it well, he finished at the rim well, and he was by no means just a big stiff.”
Irwin’s plans changed in the blink of an eye. A few days later, Javorek announced his resignation from West Geauga after learning his contract would not be renewed.
If Irvin was the Michael Jordan of West Geauga basketball, then that made Javorek his Phil Jackson. Although Jordan got one more year with his coach after it was announced Jackson’s contract would not be renewed, there would be no “Last Dance” for Irwin and the Wolverines.
“As soon as his contract was not getting renewed I knew I was not going to play at West Geauga no matter who the coach was,” explained Irwin. “Coach Javorek was the best coach I ever had. He helped me develop into the player and person I am today and I knew I was not going to play for anyone else but him at West Geauga so as soon as West Geauga did not renew his contact, they lost me too. As soon as they made that move I started making moves.”
Once word was out that Irwin was now a free agent, local schools came calling. In his three years with the Wolverines, Irwin racked up a handful of milestones during his time at West Geauga including becoming the first freshman to win MVP of the Chagrin Valley Conference after the 2017-18 season and led the Wolverines to their first CVC conference title in 14 years. He then set the school record for most points scored in a single season with 557 during the 2019-20 campaign.
While he had no shortage of suitors, he narrowed his final choices down to the Mentor Cardinals and the International Sports Academy in Willoughby. Irwin was familiar with the Mentor program as he played in the Amateur Athletic Union with a number of its current players, but ISA was an intriguing choice. Javorek advised his star pupil that ISA was the place was for him.
“He was above high school basketball at the time,” said Javorek. “He needed to go to a prep school where he needed to be challenged every day where it was going to be run like a college program, not a local high school and ISA was the best decision and best option.”
Irwin heeded his former coach’s advice and in a month’s time the paperwork was completed that allowed him to play his senior year at ISA. An independent branch of Andrews Osbourne Academy, the former Wolverines’ standout saw ISA as the perfect school to finish out his senior season. He would still take classes at West Geauga but would play his last season of high school ball in Willoughby.
“I didn’t have to move so that was a big part,” said Irwin. “If I went to Mentor, then I would have to move and I didn’t want to have to do that to my family because they already sacrificed a lot. Moving out to ISA was perfect, because I could stay at my school. I could do academics at West Geauga, and then go out to ISA for four or five hours after school.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, most local schools around the Northeast Ohio region were restricted from conducting group workouts over the summer. Since ISA was an independent school, it was not subject to those same limitations.
“I was on vacation when I committed to ISA,” said Irwin. “As soon as I got back from vacation, I went right to the gym in the morning with them and did a workout, open gym, then lifted weights and that’s what I did for the next five months until the season started. I could not have done that at West Geauga because of the pandemic.”
When Irwin first began his career at West Geauga, there wasn’t much of a learning curve. His first game as a freshman saw him post only six points against the Aurora Greenmen, but then bounced back with 26 points and ten rebounds against the Chardon Hilltoppers.
After that, there wasn’t much of a challenge, especially for his junior season.. By going to ISA, Irwin would be in for a completely different experience as the program was filled with multiple Division I athletes already committed to play basketball at the college level. According to Irwin, it was the perfect place for him.
“Not only were practices different but the competition in games and practices every day was different,” Javorek said. “It’s different when you’re the only kid going to play college basketball versus when every kid is going to play college basketball. It is better when you’re surrounded by better kids that all have the same goal and all want to work as hard as you.”
Most local area schools had to postpone the start of their basketball seasons until the New Year but that was not the case for Irwin. ISA started its season on time. Irwin said the only downside about playing at ISA was that he would not be playing in the postseason.
“I got more basketball in one day than kids were getting in a week,” he said. “My school ended at 12:30 and I would go straight to the gym. My coach would put me through an hour workout, then we’d have practice, then we’d lift weights and then watch film. I’d be at the gym for five hours right after school and get home right around 7:00 pm every single day. I loved the process and every second of it.”
What Irwin loved most about his time at ISA was the level of competition he was facing. For as long as he could remember, he had always been the biggest kid on the court but it was not the case at ISA. His practices and games saw him playing against his teammates who were just as tall or taller than him. It was a completely different experience than his time at West Geauga.
“At West Geauga I wouldn’t have to give 150% all the time but I did at ISA,” said Irwin. “At ISA I had 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10 guys coming at me every single day and I would get exposed if I did not go hard and play my best every single day. Playing against those guys every day and playing against the talent that we did during the game made me a million times better.”
Irwin finished his final year by averaging 19.7 points and 12.8 rebounds with ISA and is now taking part in a summer training camp at Youngstown State. Although he was dealt a bad hand when Javorek left the Wolverines’ program, Irwin made lemonade out of sour lemons when he transferred. He said that going to ISA was perfect for preparing him for his college career and is looking forward to his next challenge with the Youngstown State Penguins.