SALT LAKE CITY — Make room for the sweater. It’ll soon be hanging from the rafters of the Huntsman Center.
University of Utah athletics director Chris Hill announced that former Runnin’ Utes coach Rick Majerus, who died Saturday at the age of 64, will be honored with a banner sporting a replica of the white-knit sweater he often wore during his tenure with the team. It’ll hang alongside the retired jerseys of Andrew Bogut, Billy McGill, Arnie Ferrin, Danny Vranes, Andre Miller, Vern Gardner, Keith Van Horn and Kim Smith.
“It’s part of a team that’s up there in those rafters, and it’s a select team,” Hill said. “We want people to know its Rick.”
Majerus, he continued, will be remembered in other ways as well. A moment of silence is planned before Utah’s game against Boise State Wednesday night, and Hill said that Majerus will be inducted into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame. In addition, the Utes will wear some sort of remembrance on their uniforms for the rest of the season.
“We have plans in place to honor Rick in different ways. We are also formulating some plans,” said Hill, who is teaming with Saint Louis University athletic director Chris May (where Majerus concluded his career) to get the coach inducted into the national Hall of Fame.
Hill noted that Huntsman Center renovations and the building of a new practice facility for the program could produce additional opportunities to pay tribute to Majerus. During his tenure with the Utes (1989-2004), he posted a 323-95 record — 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and the 1998 championship game.
Hill, who will join Jon Huntsman Sr. in representing the university at the funeral in Milwaukee Saturday, acknowledged that Majerus had a record that was off the charts. He also praised the coach for his attention to detail, preparation and the development and motivation of players. Hill said that Majerus put smart, hard-working teams on the floor. They were unselfish and had an impeccable demeanor, he added. Academics and the personal growth of student-athletes were also part of the equation.
“It’s a sad day for Rick’s family and for his friends, for his former players and the entire University of Utah community and many of those who are beneficiaries of his friendship and his coaching,” said Hill, who called Majerus a genius and savant when it came to basketball.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak shared similar thoughts about Majerus at Monday’s press conference.
“If there was a definition for basketball junkie, you talk about his organization and it was just eat, sleep and drink basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “The relationships, I think, within his basketball teams were an extension of his family. It was very important to him whichever team he was on.”
During his five years as a player and three as a coach with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Krystkowiak saw a lot of Majerus at training camps and practices. He said he is “deeply saddened” by his passing.
Krystkowiak said he has thought about Majerus while walking in and out of his office and while going up and down a spiral staircase that leads to the Huntsman Center floor. Krystkowiak also thinks of the coach outside of the arena, acknowledging the spot near the front door where Majerus used to park his vehicle.
About three weeks ago, Krystkowiak told Hill about a dream he had that involved Majerus. Krystkowiak said it was most vivid and featured a perfectly healthy Majerus.
“The dream to me lasted a couple of hours,” Krystkowiak said. “We literally spent an afternoon together in this dream.”
Although Krystkowiak can’t recall the nature of it or what it was all about, it wasn’t long before he talked to Hill and Huntsman about bringing Majerus back to the Huntsman Center and honoring him.
Time, however, ran out before it could happen. Majerus died in Los Angeles while reportedly awaiting a heart transplant.
“We’re going to try to carry on here,” Krystkowiak said. “We weren’t able to bring Rick back here for a special game, obviously, but his spirit is still in the building and I know we’re going to be motivated by it.”
Majerus’ death, he continued, is going to inspire the Utes and make them a better team in the long run. Krystkowiak said that he has a lot of respect for Majerus and how he approached every game as if it were his last.
“I know that he’s up there smiling knowing that he didn’t short change anybody along the way,” Krystkowiak said.
It’s a blueprint the second-year coach would like to emulate. Krystkowiak said that he is motivated and touched by Majerus’ ability and accomplishments.
“I’m going to try to be like Rick,” Krystkowiak said. “I’m going to try to coach and live up to that standard that was set.”
Even though it's been more than eight years since Majerus left Utah, many folks continued to associate him with the Utes.
“I fly all over the country recruiting and doing various things and I’ll run into people with my Utah gear on and its unbelievable how many people want to know where Rick is. They remember,” Krystkowiak said. “ So he’s the prime character in the Utah basketball book. Really, if you think about Utah basketball, Rick Majerus is the first name that comes to mind. I have a lot of respect for Andrew Bogut and Andre Miller and Keith Van Horn and all those guys, but I’m sure they would agree with me that Rick Majerus is really a big part of the definition of Utah basketball."
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