If you don’t know the Billikens story by now, I’m sure you will hear it plenty of times in the coming days/weeks. Dana O’Neil wrote a terrific story for ESPN earlier this month that is well worth the read (at the link above), so I won’t go into much detail, just a quick time line.
Last year Rick Majerus coaxed Jim Crews (who played on the ‘76 undefeated Indiana team & later coached under Bob Knight) out of retirement to join his staff as an Asst. Coach. In hindsight some speculate Majerus was setting his team up for things to come.
This past November the school announced, because of his failing health, Majerus would not return and named Crews Interim Head Coach. On December 1, Rick Majerus died of a failing heart. Basketball suddenly became the easy part. Every player on the SLU roster had been recruited by Majerus. He had become a second father to some of them. You don’t prepare to handle your own coach’s death. You don’t practice to be pallbearers at his funeral. But on December 8th that’s exactly what happened. The juniors and seniors carried Rick to his final destination.
On December 15th they were playing basketball again. And went on to win 11 in a row on their way to their first out-right conference title since 1956-57 and first ever Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Title.
Jim Crews has already been named the Sporting News Coach of Year and a finalist for the Naismith COY Award. He’s coached much more than basketball.
It’s been an emotional year for everyone in the Billiken family. But don’t feel sorry for these guys. They don’t play to win for their late coach. They play to honor the lessons he taught them. Learn to recognize and appreciate that Rick Majerus is in everything they do. A defense-first team without a star player. One that plays harder and with more passion and poise than their opponent. This is still Coach Majerus’ team.
"We told them three things," Crews said. "First we told them to pray, have your prayers for Rick and his family. Number two, honor his lessons and laugh at the memories. And three, we said to do like Coach did: Live your life forward. Live your life forward. That’s all you can do, guys."
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