In writing sports since the days of the 53-team NCAA Tournament, I’ve covered basketball for a good chunk of my career, but I never got a chance to meet the late Rick Majerus.
And really, all I can say about that is, it’s a damned shame.
From all accounts, Majerus was smart, funny and dedicated to his craft.
That’s why I got a kick out of listening to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser Thursday at the NCAA Final Four media session.
Moser addressed a question about what a coincidence it is for his Loyola team to arrive in San Antonio 20 years after his mentor, Majerus, brought his Utah Utes to the city in 1998.
For Majerus, it was his one and only trip to the Final Four.
“I remember seeing coach Majerus in a white T-shirt that said, ‘Utah Utes,’ and his team walking out (to the court),” said Moser, who worked then at Texas A&M. “I remember going, ‘Holy Cow, look at how big that team (is).’ I remember seeing them at a restaurant on the River Walk.
“I remember that vividly.”
In 2007, the coaches’ careers intersected again. Majerus, then the head coach at Saint Louis, threw Moser a life line, of sorts.
Fired after four years as head coach at Illinois State, Moser joined Majerus as an assistant.
The two spent four years together, until another opportunity presented itself to Moser.
In 2011, Loyola handed him the head coaching job. Now, Moser has led the Ramblers to their first Final Four in 55 years.
Moser reminisced about his days at Saint Louis with Majerus, who died of heart failure in December 2012.
He was 64.
“Of all the things about coach, he remembers things,” Moser said. “There’s nothing that stuck in his craw more than losing that (1998) championship game to Kentucky. He could tell you every play. He could tell you everything.”
In the semifinals, the Andre Miller- and Michael Doleac-led Utes knocked off the North Carolina Tar Heels, 65-59. But in the finals, the Tubby Smith-coached Wildcats prevailed, 78-69.
“It physically bothered him to lose that game,” Moser said, “and he talked about it.”
Because the Loyola coach has looked up to Majerus so much, he said bringing his team to San Antonio this year is special.
He said people ask him often about what Majerus would say about the Ramblers, who have stormed through regional play as a No. 11 seed, all the way to San Antonio.
Loyola will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.
“I think he’d love our team,” Moser said. “We share (the ball). I think he’d say we play the right way.”
The Ramblers will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.
“We’ve got to be the first team in Final Four history to win the first four games with no dunks” Moser said. “It’s a stat I’m not proud of.
“But I think (coach Majerus) would be proud of our guys and how unselfish (they are) and how they share it.”