'Coach's Coach, Friend's Friend'; Billikens Remember Majerus and All the Lessons He Taught Them

By Strauss, Joe | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

'Coach's Coach, Friend's Friend'; Billikens Remember Majerus and All the Lessons He Taught Them


Strauss, Joe, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The moment of silence came first; the moment of applause lasted much longer.

The day after Rick Majerus died of a heart condition that had followed him for more than a decade, the St. Louis U. Billikens and an afternoon crowd at Chaifetz Arena declined to sit down.

Majerus' bequeathed team wore black ribbons above the left chest. The extended acknowledgement remained simple with a portrait shot of Majerus shown on the arena matrix.

The student section, all dressed in Majerus' signature black- shirt look, chanted his name until deferring to the national anthem. Forward Dwayne Evans stood at attention while the moment washed over him and his team. "It was awesome," he later recalled. "It was really great to see the support we had."

The Billikens then went about theirown40-minute tribute by playing their best defensive game of the season in a 62-49 disposal of Valparaiso. A team slammed by Saturday afternoon's news exhibited the traits that carried them to last season's NCAA Tournament, where they upset Memphis, lost valiantly to No. 1 seed Michigan State and provided Majerus his final public forum.

"Coach dedicated his life to ball. I can't think of anything better than the way we played tonight," Evans said.

Majerus typically referred to the game as "ball." A game he orchestrated brilliantly came to be known by the simplest reference. His players recalled that "ball" became the hub for numerous life lessons, teaching moments.

"I will miss him. I will miss him," interim coach Jim Crews emphasized during a news conference that forced him several times to search for the appropriate phrase or word. "I know thousands of people will miss him. Our players will certainly miss him."

If Saturday presented opportunity for mourning, Sunday offered an outlet for celebration.

SLU made six more shots from the field while taking five fewer than the visitors. Perimeter defense that had been hit-and-miss for much of a 3-3 start harried the Crusaders into 26.3 percent shooting in the second half.

The Billikens didn't need any second-chance points because they converted 17 off turnovers and outscored the visitors 28-14 inside. They committed 18 turnovers, but there was little give in their game. Valparaiso entered Sunday shooting 48 percent from the field but slumped to 32.6 percent in their second loss.

None of Majerus' players spoke directly to him after he took leave from his position last August. Majerus wished it that way, both wanting to protect his privacy while not becoming a distraction to an eclectic team projected as one of the nation's 25 best entering the season.

Majerus relayed word Friday to SLU athletic director Chris May and the coaching staff that his time was running out.

Once again it was time to prepare the team.

"In the back of my mind I had a feeling it might have been what happened," said senior forward Cody Ellis, whom Majerus personally recruited from Perth, Australia. "I didn't want to believe it, obviously. …

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