News of the death of Rick Majerus stunned the basketball world.
And that news particularly hit hard here, where cousins Luke Meyer and Paul Eckerle, both Borgia graduates, played under Majerus at St. Louis University.
Majerus, 64, died Saturday of heart failure in Los Angeles. He was the Billikens’ head coach from 2007-12. The school only recently announced that he wouldn’t be back after taking a leave of absence.
“His love in life was basketball, but his mission was the livelihood and success of his players,” Eckerle said. “His unmatched mastery of the game and his contributions to the programs at SLU and Utah are what will make him a hall of famer, but his impact on the future of his players and genuine concern for their well-being are what make him a hero.”
Meyer said that Majerus always kept the welfare of his players as the top priority, making sure that they didn’t forget the “student” part of “student-athlete.”
“He loved basketball, but always put education first,” Meyer said. “He did everything in his power to ensure that every one of his players graduated. I will take with me the many memorable stories from practice and road trips (there were plenty). No question he was a good coach, but more importantly he was a good person who would go out of his way to help you out. Coach Majerus was an unforgettable coach and will be missed.”
Meyer and Eckerle played together during the 2007-08 season, Majerus’ first with the school.
Meyer was a senior when Majerus was hired prior to the 2007-08 season. That season, he averaged 31.3 minutes with 8.4 points, and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Following his senior season, Luke went on to play professionally in Australia for three seasons.
“I was sad to hear about the passing of Coach Majerus,” Luke said. “He was a great coach and truly wanted the best for each of his players. I only played one year for him, but in that short time he taught me a lot about the game of basketball.”
Eckerle was a freshman recruit on that 2007-08 team and averaged 18.1 minutes, 3.8 points and 1.3 assists per game that season.
Paul played through the 2010-11 season, missing 2009-10 due to knee surgery. With a year of eligibility left, he decided to give up basketball for medical school and he’s still at Saint Louis University in that capacity.
“For four years, he was the persistent and unwavering voice in my head,” Eckerle said. “On the court, his instructions and demands were constantly resonating in my mind as if they had somehow become an innate part of my own thought process. Any of his players can affirm this, as they find themselves unconsciously repeating his words and quoting his many idioms and sayings. I find myself using his words in everyday life even outside of the discussion of basketball or sport. This reflects the influence coach had on his players both on the court and in life.”
Meyer said Majerus left a lasting impression on each of the players he coached.
“We had basketball binders that we would take to each practice and film session and it was basically another class because he would constantly be teaching you, breaking down the game in a way that made sense. His attention to detail and his preparation were incredible. After playing for him, you watch the game a little differently.”
Eckerle was around the program for the entire Majerus run with the Billikens and the loss of a mentor has hit hard.
“Our success in basketball was always second to our growth as young men of perseverance and integrity,” Eckerle said. “His emphasis on doing things ‘the right way’ was particularly striking and an explicit example of how his basketball instruction was made easily applicable to the way we conduct ourselves in society. It was often difficult, however, to realize the impact this had as it was happening. To most his methods and words taken out of context may seem harsh and uncompromising; nonetheless, it was the very nature of his methods that made them so effective. It is largely in hindsight that I have gained this perspective, and only now can I truly appreciate all the things Coach Majerus did for me. So one may see how I might characterize these past days as paradoxical. Whenever I find myself uttering his words as if they were my own, I’m reminded of the sorrow of his absence; yet, I’m deeply warmed by the inherent wisdom those words contain.”