His final team, Saint Louis, is the 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region and his impression can be seen all over the Billikens squad. Saint Louis faces 13-seeded New Mexico State on Thursday.
“I don’t know if Coach has ever been a motivational part of it,” Saint Louis interim head coach Jim Crews said. “We have not beat that drum because I know or anyone’s life is far more important than a basketball game or a championship or a season. We weren’t going to do that. However, Rick’s imprint on this program, the lessons are permanent. He’s did a great job of training these guys so that goes on and on and on every day in practice.”
That imprint is the toughness. The intelligence. The emphasis on team.
“It kind of spread from Coach Majerus,” Saint Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell said. “His passion for the game, he hates losing. That’s one of the things he preached, he coached and he got everybody on the same page to play the way he knows.”
Majerus had been at Saint Louis since 2007 and took a leave of absence in August 2012. The coach had amassed a 95-69 record with the Billikens and totaled 517 wins over his 25-year coaching career.
Since his passing on Dec. 1, the Billikens (27-6) are 24-3 and two of the losses were in overtime.
“We think about Coach every day,” Mitchell said. “There is no second that he is not with our team. We run the same offense, the same philosophy.”
Crews said, “I think anything where a kid does something that’s very intelligent or very tough or something does something very unselfish, Rick would always have a smile on his face.”
“He promoted power of team better than anybody. He just got a real big kick out of kids who do a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box scores.”
But even past the basketball court was Majerus’ passion for his players as people, particularly education.
“He was more worried about players’ education. Me and my family, I always grew up wanting to get a degree. That’s one thing Coach made an emphasis about,” Mitchell said.
Crews had known Majerus for about 35 years and recalled his passion for his players.
“He loved his guys. Last year at NCAA, we had a really good time,” Crews said. “We were in Columbus and we had a big team dinner, a lot of people were there, and Rick was having fun with the kids. It was really enjoyable then and looking back it was a pretty cool experience.”
New Mexico State
New Mexico State is still not sure if Tyrone Watson will play on Thursday. He has not played since Mar. 7 due to an ankle injury but Head Coach Marin Menzies said Watson is improving.
New Mexico State has been in the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years and experience will play heavily on their side.
“Hopefully they have prepared us big time because those environments were very good,” Menzies said. “I think that in general when you have that type of emotional atmosphere and adrenaline those guys feel is an opportunity for them to have that experience and when they get those experiences in the future it will give them some kind of comfort level on how to deal with it.”
Despite the poor seeding many around the nation thought Oregon got, the Ducks players were just happy to be in. It is the Ducks’ first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
“I don’t think we really even thought about it,” Oregon forward EJ Singler said. “We were just so happy we made it. We didn’t feel like positions, don’t’ mean that much to us. So we’re just so happy we made it, get the opportunity to play.”
The 12-seeded Ducks play No. 5 Oklahoma State.