Saturday, December 1, 2012
College basketball loses a great one
It was the fall of 1980 when I first met the legendary Rick Majerus, who died Saturday at the age of 64.
I had two credits to finish my first semester schedule and didn't know what silly class I could take to complete the 18 credits. As I was standing in line in the old Marquette gym for registration (the school had the most ridiculous, antiquated way of registering classes with like 1940's IBM computer punch cards), I saw a class that exploded off the page.
It was called "Theories of Basketball," taught by Professor Rick Majerus, who at the time was also the beloved assistant coach for the Marquette Warriors. It was a class that met twice a week, 11 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays, for an hour, for two credits.
It was clearly the best educational thing I ever took, because Majerus was a joy to be with. We spent about five minutes every Monday talking about some strategy in basketball, and then the rest of the time, we spent talking about Marquette basketball, past, present and future.
The class was phenomenal. We would go over the previous game and talk about what Sam Worthen did right or wrong or what kind of recruits he was pursuing.
"I got this kid in Illinois," Majerus said back then. "I'm pretty sure we're going to get him. If we do, it's a big-time steal."
The kid was named Glenn Rivers. There was no hint of the nickname he goes by now as the coach of the Boston Celtics. He wasn't nearly a "Doc" quite yet. But when Rivers signed his letter to come to Marquette, we celebrated as the only way we knew how. We went to eat.
Majerus loved me because of my knowledge of basketball and basketball history. He loved the fact that I had the heavy New York accent and loved that I knew about all the New York players Al McGuire brought to Marquette, including my man Jimmy Boylan, the point guard on the 1977 National Championship team.
Whenever class was over on Monday mornings, he would say, "See you guys Wednesday," then say to me, "Hey Hague, where are we going to eat?"
I'd climb in his ratty car and we'd go all over Milwaukee in search of the perfect sandwich. My particular favorite was the sub sandwiches at Cousin's, right up the block on 17th and Wisconsin from my dorm room at McCormick Hall.
I must have enjoyed lunch with Majerus about 20 times during my days at Marquette. We would talk and laugh and talk some more. Even after my two credits were over, I remained pretty close to Majerus, through his eventual shortened stint as the head coach at Marquette, to his days at Ball State and later the University of Utah.
I remembered one particular game he had as a Marquette head coach, against Bobby Knight and Indiana, circa 1984 or so, an Indiana team that featured a young Steve Alford and tremendous center Uwe Blab, in the NIT.
Well, Marquette is getting hosed by the referees, so much so that as the game goes into double overtime, Majerus has only four players left. The rest fouled out. He played the second OT with four players, one of whom was fellow Jersey City boy Mandy Johnson.
In this game, Majerus gets so incensed by a call that he literally blew himself out of his sports jacket. It split in half, much like what Chris Farley did to David Spade's jacket in the movie, "Tommy Boy." The late Farley was also a Marquette guy, so maybe he got the idea from seeing Majerus tear his sports jacket to shreds.
And of course, we lost that game. Another heartbreaking MU memory.
He always remembered me. When we would see each other at college basketball events, it wasn't a handshake waiting. It was a big hug and a hearty laugh. He was so happy that I had a career in sports, doing what I love doing. He helped me tremendously when the Nets drafted his player, Keith Van Horn, and even went out of his way to introduce Van Horn to me after he got picked by the Nets, knowing that I covered the Nets.
I spoke to him about a year or so ago, after he asked a mutual friend if it was me who was pissed off at current coach Buzz Williams for keeping the locker room closed long after a game. He heard it was a Marquette guy who was pissed at Buzz and wondered if it was me.
When people find out that I went to Marquette, the first thing they ask is whether I knew Coach McGuire. The second is whether I knew Rick Majerus.
I didn't just know Majerus. I loved him, as did so many other brethren he had in the college basketball world. There isn't a man alive who could say a bad thing about Majerus. He was so totally beloved by everyone and the center of attention at the College Basketball Coaches convention every year at the Final Four.
We're all saddened today that we lost Rick Majerus. We hoped he would take better care of himself when he had countless heart procedures, but instead of rest and recuperation, all he wanted to do was get back to his team and coach basketball.
Rick Majerus was one of a kind and he will be so sorely missed. There's a part of me that died with Coach Majerus today, because I can't pick up the phone or drop an e-mail (HE HATED E-MAILS) to him anymore.
People come and go in our lives all the time. I've had too many funerals and wakes and memorial Masses to go to over the last few years. When someone dies, there's always this moment of reflection and thoughts. Mine for the last hour or so since I heard of Majerus' passing has been climbing into that car and going to have a sandwich.
Rick Majerus was a good man, a Marquette man through and through. We all should "Ring Out Ahoya" tonight in memory of a true basketball legend, a Warrior in every aspect of his life. RIP Coach Majerus. The next really good sandwich I'll have, I'll think of you.
A couple of things have happened since I last blogged and I apologize for the delay. I've been a little busy.
First, I don't get Jason Kidd not even showing up for the Nets-Knicks game last week. I understand back pain very well. But what would have it taken for him to go to the game, sit there in street clothes, and wave to the fans who obviously still love him.
Because without doubt, there's no such thing as the Brooklyn Nets or the Barclays Center for that matter without Jason Kidd. If he wasn't traded to the Nets in 2001 for Stephon Marbury (wow, what a steal), the Nets, as we currently know them, wouldn't have existed. They would have been shipped to Charlotte or Oklahoma City or Las Vegas or Florida, all places that were talked about being moving points before the Nets got Kidd and instantly became the Eastern Conference champs two years running.
He saved the franchise, without question. He's still beloved by Nets fans. He could have attended the game, stood up, waved, and then sat down on his heating pad. Not even showing up for the first-ever New York NBA battle was just wrong.
Finally, I think what Gregg Popovich did the other night against the Heat was ridiculous. Sitting all four down on the same day? Not letting them even travel to Miami? C'mon. If he wanted to rest Tim Duncan, that's one thing. But to rest Tony Parker and Manu Ginoboli on the same day as well? He could have rested just Duncan that night, then gave Parker another night off and Ginoboli another night off. You catch my drift. Giving all four the night off together was basically mailing in a game, even if the Spurs almost overachieved and won the game.
It was a wrong precedent to start and the NBA did the right thing by fining the Spurs $250,000. Can't have this happen again.
Yes, the new Barclays Center is very nice. The drive to Brooklyn has not been that bad. I don't get the location of it or the shape of the building. My buddy Dave D'Alessandro calls it a "rusted bed pan."
But overall, it is an upgrade for the Nets and it has also produced new Net fans that have rocked the building some games, giving the place an atmosphere that never existed in New Jersey ever, even when the Nets were the best team in the Eastern Conference.
However, the seating for the press is ridiculous. It's in the high back of the visiting basket, more than 100 rows off the floor. Sure, I'm spoiled rotted with all those years of sitting courtside at the IZOD or Pru Center.
But this is being put in Never-Never Land. It's dark and you can't see the notes. I can't see the floor. I know I'm getting old and need glasses, but this is up there.
I guess life goes on, as I sit in the press room and watch the games on TV, then run around to get quotes afterwards. I was spoiled. Now, I just can't see.
You can read more of my work at www.dailyrecord.com (yes, it's high school football championship time in New Jersey), www.theobserver.com and www.hudsonreporter.com. This week in the Reporter, you can read about the intense damage that St. Peter's Prep suffered after Hurricane Sandy.