Josh Irwin could retire his high school jersey tomorrow and arguably be recognized as the best basketball player to go through West Geauga.
The 6-foot-7 rising senior has averaged a double-double throughout his varsity career with the Wolverines. Sure, there might be a few other big-name athletes at other schools who could say the same. After all, with height and talent on the court comes the ability to rebound and score points.
But not many of those other guys can say they’ve done it since their freshman season. That’s what separates Irwin from the pack – he’s been a varsity starter for three years and has averaged a double-double each of those three years. And he still has another season to go.
“Coach (Jeff) Javorek, he sat me down,” Irwin said. “We were about to get on the bus to Aurora for my first high school game, and he goes, ‘You’re going to be in the starting lineup tonight. We believe in you.’ And he put all the confidence in the world in me. That really helped me. When the coaching staff has confidence in me, it really, really helps me play well.”
That might have been more of a deer-in-the-headlights game for Irwin, who scored six points in a 59-54 road loss against the Greenmen, but Irwin didn’t waste any time taking off after that. He went on to score 26 points, 21 points and 23 points in West Geauga’s first three victories that season.
Surrounded by four seniors in the starting lineup that year, Irwin still shined with seven 20-point games, including a 24-point and 20-rebound performance against rival Orange, to propel the Wolverines to a 19-4 campaign, including a 12-2 mark in the Chagrin Valley Conference for their first league banner in 13 years.
After averaging 15.2 points and 11 rebounds per game that season, it didn’t take long for the small forward to start gaining attention from Division I college programs. He received his first offer that following summer.
More than 1,300 points and 900-plus rebounds later – with still a season of high school hoops to go – Irwin committed on Friday to continue his basketball career with the Division I Penguins at Youngstown State University, where he wants to study either business or economics.
Irwin chose Youngstown State over Mid-American Conference offers from Bowling Green, Miami and Toledo.
“I knew I was really comfortable with the coaching staff there and just the feel there, in general,” Irwin said of YSU. “Every single year since coach (Jerrod) Calhoun has been there, they’ve been improving in the win column. And it’s just a family atmosphere. You walk in there, and everyone just treats you like family.
Calhoun, entering his fourth season at the Youngstown State helm, has led the Penguins to eight wins, 12 wins and 18 wins – the most in seven seasons – during his three campaigns.
Calhoun was a standout at Villa Angela-St. Joseph who graduated in 2000 as the school’s record-holder for free-throw percentage and also played two years of college basketball under Rollie Massimino at Cleveland State.
West Geauga fifth-year head coach Jeff Javorek said Division I scholarships for basketball are difficult to obtain, and Irwin had multiple offers because of his hard work.
“I think he has the combination of work ethic and talent, and that’s kind of what makes Division I athletes,” Javorek said. “You see kids that have the talent and don’t have the work ethic. You see kids that have the work ethic and don’t have the talent. Josh is a combination.
“I mean, his routine in the off-season is 500 shots a day. Every day he’s in the gym, he’s working out, he’s lifting, he’s getting shots up, and, on top of it, he’s a 4.0-plus student.”
After West Geauga’s 19-4 CVC banner season in 2018 – which came on the heels of a seven-win campaign the previous year – Irwin was the lone returning starter his sophomore campaign.
The Wolverines went 12-12 that season, with Irwin setting a single-season program mark for rebounds. He had 18 double-doubles, averaging 19 points and 14.6 rebounds a night as a Division II special mention all-Ohioan.
“Sophomore year, I went through a lot of adversity,” Irwin said. We had Peyton Bissler come over from NDCL, and that was really going to help to take the load off me, but he was hurt probably three-fourths of the games. And when he was out, I would have probably two defenders on me every single possession, and it would be a rough time. And we still won games. We would still lose a lot of close games.
“At the end of the year, I had ankle surgery. So, that season, I had to grow as a player. It made me really grow up and made me become more hungry for my junior year.”
This past season, Irwin and Bissler, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, created quite the tandem, with Irwin averaging 22.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game as a second-team all-Ohioan and Bissler averaging 20.0 points per game.
The Wolverines went 17-8 with a 9-5 mark in the CVC. Irwin broke a single-season program record with 557 points, a career record with 1,304 points and a season record with 62 made 3-pointers.
“It meant a lot, because we had a really good year,” Irwin said. “When your program’s winning and you’re a really good player, you tend to get those awards. And just the fact that the history of West Geauga, a lot of great players have come through here, just to be among those names means a lot to me.”
The previous all-time career points leader at West Geauga was 1988 graduate Andy Suttell (1,287), who led the Wolverines to a Division II state runner-up finish his senior campaign.
Other Wolverine standouts from the past include Shane Kline-Ruminski, who played Division I college hoops from 1992-1995 at Bowling Green, and KC Hunt, who played Division I college hoops from 1990-1994 at Wichita State, to name a couple.
But through his junior year of varsity basketball at West Geauga, Irwin stands alone in his scoring and rebounding know-how in the history of his program.
“I’m just constantly being in the gym, working on every part of my game, working on ball-handling, shooting, scoring from all three spots – mid-range, in the paint and the three,” he said. “It’s just working on everything; always work on your weaknesses.”
For the past three years, Irwin has also played under his father, Doug Irwin, who is an assistant coach for the varsity Wolverines.
The elder Irwin played hoops at Brush High School and Lake Erie College. He also was an assistant at Perry High School, before joining the staff at West Geauga.
“I mean, it’s awesome,” the younger Irwin said about playing for his dad. “Ever since day one, I was a little 5-year-old running around the gym with him when he was coaching at Perry. It was just me and him. I’d wake up at 7 in the morning and go to the gym with him. And while he was coaching, I was shooting on the side basket.
“Ever since then, I was just waiting for a chance to play under him. And high school finally came, and it’s been great every single year. So, this next year, I just want to win. I want to win as much as possible with my teammate and for my coaches. I’m going to give it my all.”