St. Louis Title Win Upholds Majerus' 'Team Together'

By Bishop, Greg | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 17, 2013 | Go to article overview

St. Louis Title Win Upholds Majerus' 'Team Together'


Bishop, Greg, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


ST. LOUIS -- The chant came from the student section as Chaifetz Arena shook, as fans with blue paint streaks in their hair and "All About the Billikens" T-shirts on their backs stood and roared. The final seconds of a season unlike any other ticked away, history within reach.

The chant started.

"Rick Ma-jer-us! Rick Ma-jer-us!"

The seniors knew Majerus best. He traveled the world in search of their commitments, taught them the game that he called ball, molded them into cornerstones of the first St. Louis University men's basketball team to win an outright regular-season conference title since the 1956-57 season, a milestone the Billikens achieved last weekend.

March 9 was their senior day, nostalgia day, made all the more sentimental for the absence of Majerus.

They learned of his death after the first December practice, carried the coffin at his funeral and honored his legacy by securing the No. 1 seed in last week's Atlantic 10 tournament at Barclays Center in New York. They think of him when they eat Italian food or execute perfect backdoor cuts. They remember the laughter, the perpetual food stains, the presence.

As senior day concluded, "Sweet Caroline" played over the arena loudspeakers -- "Good times never seemed so good. So good! So good! So good!" -- and the seniors addressed the crowd.

"For you, Coach," guard Kwamain Mitchell said as he pointed skyward.

As the stands emptied and St. Louis (24-6) cut down the nets, Mike and Robyn Ellis, the parents of the senior forward Cody Ellis, told Majerus stories. Like how he visited them in Australia and talked basketball and bodysurfing at the beach. Or how he nursed Cody Ellis through mononucleosis and a shoulder injury. Or the first impression he made.

That took place on an Ellis family trip to the United States to visit four universities. At the other colleges, the coaches told Ellis how great he was and how much money went into their facilities. Majerus sat down and grabbed a pencil and diagramed plays. Same as he did with the grandmother of forward Dwayne Evans, a post player in the example Majerus had drawn up.

Asked what Majerus would have said as the scene unfolded March 9, Robyn Ellis ventured, "It's about bloody time, boys."

That was Majerus, a basketball coach in title but a teacher at the core, blunt until the end.

Chris May, the St. Louis athletic director, used to watch Majerus conduct practice, in his element, all those X's and O's, and he saw not a coach but "an artist." It was like watching Matisse paint.

"Just seeing what you've done on film, he could tell you exactly what you're going to be good at, how you're going to be good at it and what plays you could run to be good at what you're going to be good at," said Cody Ellis, his hair painted with a blue stripe down the middle. "He was brilliant."

Majerus seemed to enjoy practice, the process, more than games. After he notched his 500th career victory, he scurried into the locker room before the university could conduct the ceremony, upset at the way his team had played and forgetting about the planned celebration. His assistants had to fetch him.

He took the St. Louis job in 2007, after a hiatus in the broadcast booth and a few days as the coach at Southern California in 2004, and set about another reclamation project at the second oldest Jesuit university in the nation, founded in 1818. He moved into a hotel downtown, the Chase Park Plaza. He renovated the space next to the locker room; instead of a team lounge, as intended, he built a classroom, where the keys to victory -- defend, rebound -- never changed.

Majerus fostered a family atmosphere. He called his charges "Team Together," two words he repeated dozens of times daily. Players repeated that phrase ad nauseam, hokey as it was, before every practice, during every game, after every meal, every lift.

"We'd tell recruits, the pool table and all that stuff is in the student union," said Jim Whitesell, the associate head coach. …

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