Catching up: Old friends Andre Miller, Alex Jensen reflect on their time at Utah under coach Rick Majerus

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 8:30 p.m. MST

Utah's Andre Miller and Alex Jensen dive for a ball in a game against BYU on Jan. 9, 1999. Miller and Jensen remain friends many years later.

Kristin Jacobsen, Deseret News

NEW YORK — Moments after Wednesday’s game between the Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards, Andre Miller and Alex Jensen got a rare chance to catch up with each other.

Two old teammates. Thousands of miles and a couple of decades away from where their life stories merged in Salt Lake City. Smiles warm enough to melt a polar vortex. Friendship as strong as ever. So many stories to relive. So little time before one had to hop on the team bus and the other had to head home for the night.

During their brief chat after the Wizards’ win, it’s possible they discussed Miller’s recent trade from Denver to Washington; maybe Jensen’s first year in the NBA on the Jazz's staff; and probably families, friends and old teammates.

More likely than not, the former University of Utah basketball players’ conversation outside of Washington’s locker room at Verizon Center eventually gravitated toward one topic. One man. One larger-than-life personality and basketball guru that influenced their lives forever.

Rick Majerus.

That just naturally happens when these members of the Utes’ 1998 NCAA Finals squad meet up.

“We don’t usually talk about the Kentucky game or the (tournament) runs or anything like that,” Jensen said. “It usually comes back to Coach Majerus, because he’s the figure he was.”

Demanding, but caring. Punishing, but brilliant. Intense, but insightful. Crass, but hilarious. Obsessed, but successful. Meticulous, but grandiose.

Gone, but unforgettable.

“Every conversation was Rick Majerus after a while,” Miller said, echoing Jensen. “We had good times there (at Utah). Nine times out of 10 (since), it was Rick Majerus stories.”

A lot of laughs

Jensen played for Majerus from 1994-2000, with a two-year LDS mission to England mixed in. Years later, after a playing career overseas, he worked as an assistant on the late coach’s staff at St. Louis from 2007-11. The Centerville native smiled when asked if there’s a favorite story he and Miller recount about the man who elevated Utah to an elite status.

Jensen, who jokingly claimed his Miller and Majerus tales aren’t suited for publication, thought for a second and started reminiscing.

His response was surprising.

“Dre’s laugh,” Jensen said.

Turns out, Miller wasn’t just amazing at helping teammates like Jensen, Keith Van Horn and Michael Doleac score with his court vision and precise passing. He also excelled at giving his peers, particularly Jensen, a case of the giggles.

Imagine for a second Majerus coaching, blood rushing to his head, fire in his eyes, basketball brilliance bouncing around his brain as he explained X's and O's to young men during a heated game, film session or practice.

Now try to picture laughter escaping from Miller, the quiet, stoic, laser-focused floor general who wasn’t known for showing emotions. Of any kind. Especially not in college.

“I remember in a timeout — I can’t really say what it was — something happened. It was funny,” Jensen recalled. “(Andre) started laughing. He made me laugh on the bench and then we got in trouble because Coach looked over and we were laughing.”

It wasn’t an isolated incident.

“We’d be sitting there and Coach Majerus would say something. We would be serious, but Dre would be one of the first ones to laugh,” Jensen said. “Dre was the guy that when he laughed I couldn’t help myself.”

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