You might be the type of person who roots for the underdog. Every year the NCAA Tournament comes along and you are looking for a team to root for with a decent chance to pull off a few upsets making some of the ‘Madness’ happen.
This year that team should be the Saint Louis Billikens. Let me explain to you why.
About six years ago the legendary coach Rick Majerus agreed to become the head coach of the Billikens basketball team. This decision was made largely in part because it allowed Majerus to be closer to his ailing mother in Milwaukee.
Majerus quickly became the most well known figure on the campus of the Jesuit-school. He was universally liked by the community, even after a somewhat controversial start.
The coach implemented his defense-oriented, slow down the game strategy, but his system could hardly make up for the minimal talent he inherited. But Majerus held true to his system and his recruiting. He was confident that in four or five seasons he would have a winner.
The Billikens faced adversary in their first four years under Majerus, but as time went on they improved. And last season, with a roster full of Majerus’ recruits (none of which made much of a buzz coming out of high school) the Billikens won 26 games and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and pushed number one seeded Michigan State to the brink before falling short to the Spartans.
The post-game press conference was emotional. Rick Majerus is known to crack jokes. He’s known to be a tough guy that isn’t afraid to say anything. He wasn’t known for crying. But that’s what happened after that Michigan State loss. Majerus told the world just how much these players meant to him and how proud he was. It was a beautiful tribute and it was a great press conference to cap off a great accomplishment.
It turned out to be the last press conference Majerus was ever a part of. He died on December 1st of 2012.
Majerus had always battled weight issues, which led to heart issues. Just prior to the season, he stepped down as coach (at the time temporarily) and handed the reigns to Jim Crews.
Majerus would never coach again.
The current SLU players were the pallbearers at his funeral. After his death, the Billikens (who were having an average season), followed his death with nine straight wins. They eventually garnered a top 16 ranking in the nation and won the Atlantic 10 conference.
Every single member of the team and coaching staff is there because of Rick Majerus. They were all hired or recruited by him.
Just as he predicted he built a legitimately dangerous team in five years. And dangerous they are. The Billikens play stifling defense and control the tempo against all their opponents.
They are poised to make a run with their late coach as inspiration. Everyone has a team they root for in the NCAA Tournament. But no one should be rooting against the Saint Louis University Billikens.