Last month, former University of Utah head men’s basketball coach Rick Majerus joined elite company when he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
In his 15 season as head coach, Majerus led the Runnin’ Utes to the postseason 13 times, including 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. He won 10 conference titles and took the Runnin’ Utes to the Sweet 16 in 1991 and 1996, the Elite Eight in 1997, before a Final Four and National Championship appearance in 1998. Combined with stops at other schools, Majerus won a total of 517 games and remarkably, had just one losing season in 25 years as a head coach.
The Hall-of-Fame coach left Utah with numerous records and despite some criticism for his tough love approach, he left a lasting impression on many, including Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
Leading up to Wednesday’s game between Kentucky and Utah, Calipari was asked on Tuesday about his relationship with Majerus. Calipari shared two things, including a heart-warming gesture that Majerus did for many in the coaching profession, both in the NBA and in college.
Calipari first talked about the players Majerus developed while at Utah and how he turned the program into a basketball powerhouse at the time. During his time as head coach and executive vice president of basketball operations of the New Jersey Nets, Calipari made his way out to Salt Lake City to watch several players, including Keith Van Horn. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound All-American, ended up being taken by Calipari with the No. 2 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.
“I knew (Rick) him well,” Calipari said. “I went out and spent some time with him in Utah. We had the NBA lockout and I ended up drafting one of his guys, Keith Van Horn. I saw him in practice and fell in love with him there and ended up drafting him. He had a heck of a year for me. I can remember we went through LA and played the Lakers and he got 38 (points) against them.”
Calipari then went even deeper about Majerus and the type of person that he was. While he was known for being rough with players and for always preaching toughness, Calipari brough a side that many did not know about Majerus and the love for all those around him.
Calipari shares how several coaches told him a story about how after they were fired, Majerus contacted them and sent them money in an effort to help them out and make their landing easier.
“Rick was a basketball genius and one of the biggest-hearted people you’d ever meet,” Calipari said. “I know for a fact that when guys got fired in our profession, if he knew you, he’d send you a check. Guys would get checks in the mail with a note saying, ‘You probably need this right now.’ I’m not talking about $100 bucks. We’re talking $5,000. The only reason I know it is because two of the guys told me. He’d tell them that it’s a tough business and that he knows they are going through and wants to help. So, my respect for him and the guys that worked for him. Del Harris who was with him in Milwaukee with the Bucks and would tell you he’s one of the best human beings ever. I’ll say it again: a basketball genius. This guy was basketball.”