Monday, November 10, 2008

What the Chaifetz Arena Means to Me


As you may have noticed, I haven't blogged in well over a year.  In fact, I had no intention of bringing the blog back, but when I did a random search of Billiken Basketball, this blog came up in the top 3 on google.com so it inspired me to ramble. 

As most people reading this blog probably know, this Friday the Billikens debut their brand new, on-campus Chaifetz Arena.  While everyone is excited about the arena, it has sentimental meaning for me.  When I was about four years old--which happens to be the age of my oldest son--my father first started taking me to SLU games.  Back then, the games were in the cozy, Kiel Auditorium.  I fell in love with the sport and the Billikens back then.  As years went by, and the Billikens struggled to continue to earn respect during the Grawer years, I remember my father regularly venting that the program needed its own on-campus arena to obtain a true home court advantage.  At some point during the 80's, my father shared his excitement with me when tentative plans were announced to build a new arena where the couples warehouses currently stand.  Even though it was not on campus, it was going to be a brand new facility for his beloved Billikens.  Of course, like so many well-intended urban projects in St. Louis, it never came to fruition due to political reasons.  
Fortunately, a few years after the Cupples project fell apart, the Kiel partners announced plans to build the glorious new Kiel Center.  The construction forced the Billikens to detour through the old St. Louis Arena, which turned out to be some of the best years of Billiken basketball.  (As a college freshmen, I will never forget the banners being removed from the rafters due to the walk-up sellout of the December 1993 SIUC game.)  While I loved the old barn, it was definitely not the ideal long-term solution for Billiken basketball.  
In the fall of 1993, I had the opportunity to tour the Kiel Center while it was under construction and remember being estatic about the prospect of the Billikens playing in their luxurious new home.  During the Spoon years and a few top 10 attendance seasons, it was a great home for the Billikens.  However, in less than a decade, it became clear that the size and location of the Kiel/Savvis/ScotTrade Center was not ideal or reasonable for college basketball.  
So five years ago, when SLU first announced plans for an on-campus arena, I smiled thinking about those many times nearly three decades ago when my father tried to explain to his then-little boy how important it was for SLU to have its own on-campus arena.  Unfortunately, as the team struggled and fundraising stalled, it seemed like my lifelong wish that I have shared with my father would once again end in disappointment.  Now, when I drive by the Chaifetz Arena every morning and afternoon on my way to and from work, I can't help but look to make sure the on-campus arena is really there. 
So this 2008-2009 basketball season, like most SLU fans, I look forward to watching legendary coach Majerus mold seven exciting freshmen and a few talented seniors into a highly-competitive team.  What is most important to me, however, is that I will be enjoying the game with my wife, kids, and close friends, while my father sits a few sections over finally watching his Billikens play in their very own on-campus arena...better late than never.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The King of the Preseason

Every year I have to tell myself not to get too excited about preseason games, to focus on individual efforts as opposed to just statistics. Of course, it can be easy to lose perspective sometimes, when the Bills are putting up eye-popping numbers against Division II and NAIA opponents. Heck, even the offensively-challenged squads of the Brad Soderberg regime used to occasionally drop 80-90 points on the opposition back in the day.

So, while I was fairly impressed with the play of new Billiken PF Barry Eberhardt vs. UMSL on Friday night (12 points, 5 rebounds), all I could think of was Vashun Newborne, king of the preseason. In four preseason games at SLU, Newborne put up the following drool-inducing figures:

11/6/04 vs. UMSL - 14 points
11/13/04 vs. Truman State - 14 points, 8 rebounds
11/9/05 vs. UMSL - 10 points
11/14/05 vs. Maryville - 10 points, 4 rebounds

How nice would it have been to have a PF with numbers like that in the regular season?

And of course, who can forget the play of Obi Ikeakor:

11/3/06 vs. UMSL - 9 points, 4 rebounds
11/8/06 vs. Harris Stowe - 10 points, 4 rebounds

Let's hope that Eberhardt turns out to be the real deal.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thoughts on New Recruit (Brian Conklin)

According to Nate Latsch of Billikenreport.com, Majerus has landed his fifth commitment for the Class of 2008 from Brian Conklin, a 6'8/9" power forward from Eugene, Oregon. Conklin is described as a strong and athletic power forward who only recently began to focus exclusively on basketball. Conklin was the Oregon Class 5A player of the year and led his team to the state championship and an undefeated record. This past season, Conklin dropped 40-something points in a game to break a 27 year-old scoring record held by Danny Ainge. Not bad company. It is being reported that Conklin was offered by one Pac-10 school and recruited by others. Again, not bad company. Conklin is from the same state as famous power forward recruited and coached by Majerus: Michael Doleac. I hope that the Oregon magic strikes twice for Majerus.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Majerus's Philosophy from "My Life on a Napkin"

This past week, I finished reading Rick Majerus's book, My Life on a Napkin. This book should be required reading for every die-hard Billiken fan, player, recruit, and--most importantly--recruit's and player's parents. Throughout the book, Majerus is very candid about his thoughts and philosophies regarding coaching and life. The following is a brief summary of some of his quirks and philosphies highlighted in the book:

  • Majerus has a passionate love and respect for the game, and this love and respect translates into his recruiting approach. He seems to give little regard for things like recruiting rankings and instead looks for a passion and work ethic in his recruits. He says he likes to watch how a kid warms up; prepares to come into the game; vocalizes on the court; and interacts with fans, teammates, etc. He also notices the approach of a recruit's friends and family. Majerus of course recognizes that size, skill, and athleticism are important, but he only wants kids who have a work ethic and love for the game to go with some combination of those traits. Michael Doleac wasn't offered a scholarship by any other school and didn't even start for his high school team when Majerus offered him. Rick was also the only major program that recruited Andre Miller. (Both these players ended up being first round draft picks in the NBA.)
  • Majerus is very hard on his players during practice and film sessions, particularly those players for whom he has the highest expectations. If he believes a player isn't giving 100% at any time, the player will hear about it. Majerus has a tendancy to use foul language during practice, which he claims is a result of his days of working as a union laborer as a teenager.
  • Majerus loves his players--these kids are his family. While he is very tough on them during practice, he will do anything for them outside of the game. He takes a genuine interest in their academics, family lives, and other problems and isn't shy about reaching out to those in need. He helped turn Andre Miller from a Prop 48 into a four-year graduate. He spent all night with Keith Van Horn when his dad died, and was the godfather of Keith's first kid. He has traveled the world to visit his players who are taking Mormon missions.
  • Speaking of academics and off-the-court activities, Majerus has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to staying on top of academics. He also has a zero tolerance policy regarding drug use. At Ball State, he cleaned out part of his roster due to marijuana issues.
  • Majerus has had several opportunities to be a head coach in the NBA for big dollars. He has declined these opportunities because he doesn't believe he can affect kids in the NBA like he can in college.
  • Speaking of the NBA, Majerus's very good friends include George Karl, Dell Harris, and Don Nelson. These aren't just names he drops from time to time; these are guys he spent years coaching with and learning from, and he is still very close with each one. In fact, Del Harris helped get him the Ball State job.
  • Much has been written about the high turnover of Majerus's players at Utah. One obvious reason for the turnover is the high number of Mormon players who go on missions. The other reason is that Majerus is up front with players. If says he and kids make mistakes; if he doesn't believe a kid will end up contributing for his program, he will be very candid with the kid about it. He had two undergrads transfer to lesser programs after his Final Four season because they would never be major contributors for Utah under Rick.
  • There is a chapter in the book in which Majerus vents about all of the issues with Marquette job in the 80's. He references dated facilities, poor training equipment, and limited budgets and staffs. According to Rick, most of these issues were downplayed and ignored due to the success Al Maguire had in the late 70's. Maquire's success gave administrators at Marquette the false belief that they could be highly competitive on the cheap. He could have written the same chapter (verbatim) regarding SLU during the last decade. I am certain Rick used this experience in his conversations with Biondi to ensure that none of these issues would exist under his reign at SLU.
  • Based upon the description of Rick's recruiting classes at Utah, it is reasonable to claim that Majerus's current recruiting class at SLU, with a consensus top 100 recruit and several other recruits ranked top 30 for their position, is probably as good as any he has ever had. Let's hope he can do things with this level of talent that he did with less.
  • Majerus never wants to coach again in Milwaukee. He believes that it is too difficult to coach in a high-profile and highly scrutinized capacity in one's home town.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Levick Resigns as Athletic Director

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cheryl Levick has resigned from her position as athletic director at SLU to accept the Chief of Staff role in the University of Maryland athletic department. Ms. Levick was intelligent and enthusiastic during her brief tenure at SLU and was an asset for the university. I am sure she will have enormous success at Maryland and beyond, and I wish her the best.