Utah to hang replica Majerus sweater in rafters
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) University of Utah officials will honor the legacy of Rick Majerus by hanging a replica of his trademark white sweater from the rafters at the basketball arena where he coached from 1989 to 2004 and regularly led the Utes to the NCAA tournament.
A moment of silence will be held at Utah’s next game Wednesday and players will wear black patches in honor of a man Utah athletic director Chris Hill remembered as a “basketball savant.’ Majerus died Saturday in Los Angeles while awaiting a heart transplant. He was 64.
“To retire his jersey and put a No. 1 up there, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Hill said Monday.
The replica sweater will be created to fit in with the select names already hanging from the rafters.
“We want people to know it’s Rick,” Hill said. “You’ll know it’s a sweater, but at the same time it won’t diminish anybody else who is out there.”
Majerus had been invited back previously to be inducted into Utah’s Hall of Fame but the timing wasn’t right last year as he was coaching at Saint Louis and his health had taken a turn for the worse. Hill said the induction is still planned for a man who led the Utes to the 1998 NCAA final and had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools.
“His career exploded during his time here and the University of Utah’s recognition exploded following his wake,” Hill said. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to have worked with somebody that was one of a kind.”
Hill said he hopes to sit down with former players, coaches and supporters to discuss other ways to recognize Majerus, especially since there are plans to expand the Huntsman Center and upgrade facilities.
He also is working with Chris May, the athletic director at Saint Louis, to have Majerus inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“‘Essentially he was a genius and a savant in basketball,” Hill said. “He died way too soon at 64 and many of us maybe knew that day was coming.”
Hill said he knew by the fourth game of Majerus’ tenure at Utah that he was a great coach because of his passion and planning – even if he sometimes couldn’t find his own shirt in his messy office.
“Somehow he was able to make it happen,” he said.
Hill said he intends to attend Majerus’ funeral Saturday in Milwaukee.
Current Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who played five years in Milwaukee and also coached at the NBA level there, remembers seeing Majerus at practices and training camps.
Krystkowiak called Majerus a “basketball junkie,” living out of a Marriott near campus so he wouldn’t be distracted by rent and coaching players he saw as an extension of his own family.
“Rick did it his way,” Krystkowiak said. “He wasn’t interested in making everybody happy, but if you were part of that basketball fraternity, then he had a special way to touch everybody.”
Krystkowiak, 5-2 in his second season as Utah coach, recalled a vivid dream he had involving a healthy Majerus a year ago.
It wasn’t long after that he spoke with Hill and the coach’s longtime friend, Jon Huntsman, about bringing Majerus back to honor him.
“I fly all over the country, recruiting and doing various things and I’ll run into people with my Utah gear on and it’s unbelievable the people who want to know where Rick is,” Krystkowiak recalled. “If you think about Utah basketball, he’s the first name that comes to mind.”
Though they weren’t able to bring Majerus back for a special game, he said his passing will inspire and motivate everyone involved with the program.
“We’re going to represent the program in grand fashion,” Krystkowiak said, while adding that he doesn’t believe anybody can live up to what Majerus did during his run at Utah.
“It’s really beyond words what he did basketball-wise,” Krystkowiak said of Majerus’ 323-95 record with the Utes.
Sophomore center Dallin Bachynski said Monday that he regrets not ever having the chance to meet Majerus.
“Even though he’s passed, he’s still a big part of what (Utah) is now,” he said. “He drives us forward, drives coach forward. It’s one of the things as a team we want to do – play so we kind of respect what he did. Not play to get the amount of wins he got, but the way he did it, the kind of people that we are… (that) is the way we respect his memory.”