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Majerus’ passion for the game offers a lesson for us all

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What is left to be said? The articles and commemorations of former Head Coach Rick Majerus beautifully articulate what a great man and coach he was. I was lucky enough to have the privilege of watching and covering every game of Majerus’ final year coaching.

Majerus was the only reason that I knew about Saint Louis University when looking at colleges to attend. After I joined The University News, I dreamed of covering basketball games just so I could speak with the coach.

When I started watching the games in November 2011, I was just a staff writer in the stands, learning from my editor. Eventually, I made it to the media room and got to witness the coach interact with his audience.

Majerus sat down and made a brief statement about the game. For the rest of the press conference, he couldn’t stop with the jokes. I laughed at Majerus’ wit about the game and all manner of things on his mind; it wasn’t just basketball he had to talk about. Majerus always lightened the mood and made me laugh during these press conferences.

Eventually, I started covering games, but in comparison to the preparation I knew Majerus put into his playmaking and analysis for each game, I always felt underprepared. What question could I ask him that would stand out from the rest? My mind raced with ideas and thoughts, but I was continuously too nervous to ask anything in case I embarrassed myself in front of the legend.

I played basketball in high school, but Majerus had a level of knowledge that I only dreamt of possessing. It was the knowledge of Majerus’ own sports-intelligence that drove me. I strove to become a better journalist, wanting to match Majerus’ passion in my own writing.

I kept trying to get better, attending press conference after press conference, listening and learning from the coach and always laughing along the way. After nearly three months, I decided to ask my first question of Majerus. It was Feb. 18, after a victory over Fordham, and I remember it well.

I tentatively raised my hand. After a quick comment from the coach, asking where my editor was, I cleared my throat and started to speak.

“Were you worried that they [Fordham] were going to isolate Chris Gaston in the second half against Brian [Conklin] and Rob [Loe]?” I asked.

“I was, but they were desperate to get him some production. He didn’t score a point in the first half which is a credit to our defense,” Majerus said.

I finally did it.

Though I felt like I had done something wrong as he didn’t follow up my question with a joke or some other side comment, I felt accomplished for simply speaking up.

The season progressed and I asked more questions, relishing in every Rick Majerus press conference that he talked about basketball and other topics. It was always fun and entertaining.

At the NCAA tournament, the focus of these conferences shifted to Majerus’ health.

The NCAA tournament was first and only time I got to personally meet Majerus. After the victory over Memphis, Dr. Richard Chaifetz introduced me to the man himself. We briefly discussed the game, his strategy against certain Memphis players, the upcoming Michigan State game and what it was like writing for the student newspaper. I told him that I enjoyed it and that I enjoyed covering the season. That was the only time I truly interacted with Rick Majerus.

After the loss to Michigan State, there was a very different tone in the press conference. Majerus looked like he had gone through a 15-round boxing match. He was a more somber Majerus than I remembered. There were jokes, but he was visibly shaken by the end of the season and the prospect of losing graduating seniors Brian Conklin and Kyle Cassity for next year. Conklin’s own emotional breakdown showed how much Majerus impacted his life.

Majerus always emphasized academics, complementing his players who gave their best efforts in their classes. He was most proud of his players not just for their on the court success, but their academic achievements. He cried not when Conklin scored 1,000 points, but when he was named an Academic All-American.

Although I may not have had the personal connection that others had with Coach Majerus, he still affected my life. The way he coached, cared and loved his players was truly amazing. His rapport with his team is something that other head coaches envied.

Majerus sacrificed so much of himself for his team and the University. Thanks to him, more people know, or at least wonder, what a Billiken is. He was one of the last coaches who loved the game purely for the game itself.

So Majerus, thank you for all you have done for me. You made me a better student of the game, you inspired me to become better writer and you made being a Billiken relevant. Without you, I would have never heard of or made it to Saint Louis University.

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