Denver Nuggets coach George Karl said he is still having a tough time dealing with the death of his friend, former Utah and Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus.
Karl spoke about his friendship with Majerus, who died of heart failure Saturday night after being hospitalized for several months.
”It’s still very hard for me,” Karl said before the Nuggets played Toronto on Monday night. ”He’s one of my best friends and I think most people in basketball know that. I’m mad at him, I’m angry he’s gone, there’s a lot of emotions going on in my head. Most of it is I’ve got to figure out how to celebrate our friendship for the rest of my life even though he’s not going to be with us.”
The two became friends while working at the Pete Newell Big Man camp at Stanford University in 1986 and the friendship grew over the years. The camaraderie extended to Karl’s family, who considered Majerus one of them.
”Incredible friend. He treated me like I was his brother,” Karl said. ”My son called me and said he was part of our family. He’s been with Coby since he was in sixth grade. A lot of roots, a lot of stories and a lot of love.”
While Majerus was known as a college coach, Karl invited him to work with the Nuggets and offer insight over the past seven years. Several times he referred to Majerus in the present tense.
”He has a tremendous instinct on how to put a team together,” Karl said. ”We have tremendous philosophical differences in a lot of things, but team and how the team works and who plays well with each other and how to incorporate strengths and weaknesses, he was always was there to help me make the next step with my team.
”Training camp, playoffs, in the season, he has a tremendous way of making me feel confident about who I am as a coach. He was always good in that way.”
Majerus, a Milwaukee native, compiled a 517-216 record over 25 years with Saint Louis, Ball State, Utah and Marquette. Majerus guided the Billikens to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 12 years last season. The Billikens, who finished 26-8, upset Memphis before losing to Michigan State.
He took Utah to the 1998 NCAA championship game, where the Utes lost to Kentucky. That team featured three future NBA players: Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Andre Miller, who plays for the Nuggets.
Karl praised Majerus’ record despite not having top-tier recruits.
”He never had the blessing of having the best talent in college, but he had an incredible record in Utah, he had an incredible record in producing NBA players,” Karl said. ”Andre being one of them.”