Coach Majerus couldn't just 'talk ball'

Originally Published: December 14, 2004
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

A couple of years ago, I was sitting with Rick Majerus and Don Donoher having Thanksgiving dinner in Maui. At one point, Majerus stopped eating and said, "I love talking ball."

He meant it.

Rick Majerus truly loves basketball, and appreciates it at every level of play. He is, in the most complimentary way possible, a basketball lifer.

Earlier this year, Majerus was working with an NBA team, helping that team put in defenses for special situations, and gave the officials of that NBA team the impression that he was pining to get back to the sidelines, to be in charge of a team and the development of its players.

"Rick really wants back in," the NBA front office official told me. I had no doubt he did.

Rick Majerus loves to teach, and loves every aspect of the game. He will sit for hours on end at a table, diagramming plays on a napkin with coaches and players, moving salt and pepper shakers around to simulate a play.

A few years ago, Notre Dame was all set to send a plane to pick up Majerus to be the next coach of the Irish. The same people in charge of the current coaching situations in South Bend pulled the plug on the hire when Majerus admitted cheating on a test in college, and said he wouldn't wear socks. Maybe he wasn't right for the Irish, but he is right for the game.

Majerus is not the normal coach for any school. He lived in a hotel, he spent little time in his office, and he is the anti-coach in every respect, except for on the floor. On the floor, he's at home, and he's one of the best. He is the coaching progeny of Al McGuire, part genius and part eccentric.

Majerus likes to body surf, but doesn't have the body for the beach.

Majerus likes to eat, but doesn't have the heart to eat as much as he craves.

But, above all else, Majerus loves the game of basketball with all of his heart. And Majerus' heart can't contain his love for basketball.

I grew up in Southern California, and I was recruited hard by USC. Every letter that USC sent me ended in a simple sentence, "It's Great To Be a Trojan." For years and years, USC has been a gym away from being a great job. I played in the L.A. Sports Arena. It was once a great building. It is not anymore.

But USC has always meant something special in California and beyond, just not not always in basketball. Now, with a new building and a new coach, USC has the chance to be an outstanding program on the court. Now, with a new basketball facility, the Trojans will be able to compete favorably in the Pac-10. With Majerus, the Trojans will be able to create the excitement to fill that building.

Rick Majerus will love it. He's a coach, and he's still one of the best. I have no doubt that he will make USC a winner, and he will be easy to find, at a local eatery, talking ball. My only advice, be careful of Tommy's Burgers ... it can be too good to pass up.

My only regret is that I won't get to work with him on ESPN's GameDay. He would have loved it. All we do is talk ball.

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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