"I got on
Bryce [Husak] really hard the other day: 'If you're just another big guy who
doesn't want to play, but you feel obligated because of your size and because
we gave you the scholarship? Let me give you a hug, you got the scholarship;
let's part ways. Because why should Luke Meyer and Kevin Lisch and Liddell have
this passion and we're a team and you don't have it?' There's a lot of guys I'd
want to go camping with; there's not a lot of guys I want to win with. Is that
fair? Yeah. I don't take it personally. I love my doctor."
It's a sunny
Thursday, around noon. Majerus is sitting at a table outside his hotel,
ordering lunch. He's just come from a swim; he's wearing a baggy pair of shorts
and a black Saint Louis T-shirt with a hole in the left armpit. So? He's got no
wife to answer to, no children to pick up at school; he never wears a tie.
There are those who say that Majerus changed with his success at Utah, shedding
friends he'd made at the beginning, yet if you look at his life, change is the
last thing Majerus seems to want. If he has a complaint, it's that the world is
less fun than when he was 12 and he and his pals would shoot baskets all day.
It's no exaggeration to say that his days unwind like a 12-year-old's fantasy
of adult life: living in hotels, hanging out with the guys, the whole world a
locker room where you can b.s. about the latest movie and nobody blinks if you
strip to take a shower. Work 18-hour days, then take off for three months in
Hawaii? Sure. Majerus's two-room suite is a mess, but he knows where everything
is: the paper with all his phone numbers, the boxes of cold medicine, his
. By the door is a box of Milwaukee Braves baseball cards,
his childhood heroes right at hand.
comes. When he finishes lunch, he will go upstairs, sling a bag over his
shoulder, thank the housekeeper for her hard work and race off to meet with his
coaches. But for now? The waitress has fixed his bowl of soup just right.
some?" he says between spoonfuls. "She did a great job getting
vegetables into this. These are fresh-cut carrots and the celery's fresh-cut. I
love that. You should get a bowl."
pain: Rick Majerus prizes his. Because pain teaches you. Because pain is the
price of chasing one's passion, and if you don't do that, you're not alive.
Because, ideally, losses like tonight's 22-point thrashing at Boston College
show how limited your immediate future is, and that kind of clarity can only
help. Majerus inherited this Saint Louis team. Few doubt he can put the program
in the national picture, but he figures on a three-year struggle, and who knows
how long his body will hold up? He's got a team, but for now it feels nothing
the position I'm in here now: These guys didn't pick me; I didn't pick
them," Majerus says after the Dec. 4 game. "We're in each other's
worlds, and we're looking at each other, like...." He shrugs. "It is
what it is. I like these kids, they're really nice kids. I would like any one
of them as a son."
That only sounds
dismissive. Majerus knows basketball cost him a marriage, kids. More than once
he investigated adopting a child alone and allowed himself to be talked out of
it. But the boys he never had and raised are never far from his mind. The
boosters saw that in the bar back in October, when, apropos of nothing, he
dropped into a public reverie, his voice gone mournful and soft. "I wish I
could've had a kid like Dwayne Polk or Luke Meyer," he said of two of his
seniors. "I don't have any regrets other than that. I look at Luke and
think, Boy, his parents must feel so special to have that kind of a
That sparked a
tangent about parents today, and how they "want to take all the pain, all
the heartache and all the sadness out of their kids' lives. All the things that
make you a better person, a better coach, a better teacher—all the things that
are so much the fabric of life. I'm so much better for every loss I've had. I
and everyone in the place leaned forward in his seat. It was pin-drop quiet.
When he spoke again his eyes had filled with tears, and the words came out
slowly; suddenly it was 1998, March 30, and Doleac and Miller and Alex Jensen
were beating Kentucky in the NCAA final, up by 12 early in the second half. No
one had expected them to even get there. No one had expected Utah to beat
Arkansas, Arizona and North Carolina—all those traditional powers—and now
Majerus saw Kentucky, too, in his grasp. Then came Utah's collapse, his
overmatched players finally run down and beaten 78--69, the whole awful film of
it unspooling again in his head.
"I don't know
how to tell you this," Majerus rasped. "I don't think I can get you
guys there; I probably can't, because it's so tough to get to the Final Four.
But, you know, I was just a bad player; any walk-on with me now is much better
than I ever was. But I always loved to play, and I knew how to get my way in:
I'd find all those guys who were good shooters and set picks for them and I'd
go on the floor for loose balls. [At Utah] I had such great kids. I love those
kids. They played their asses off, and we got to the national championship
game; I can remember every moment of that game. You become so much better a
person for all the bad things that happen to you. But all these helicopter
parents, they just hover there, and they want to take all that away from their
kids. They don't want them to fight through it."