Utes honor late Rick Majerus by raising replica of his sweater
BY Steve Luhm
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 02 2013 03:27PM
Rick Majerus was undoubtedly in a foul mood 15 years ago. One night earlier, New Mexico had snapped the University of Utah’s 18-game winning streak with a 77-74 comeback victory at the Pit.
The third-ranked Utes committed two critical turnovers in the final 1 minute, 27 seconds, although Majerus was convinced his star point guard, Andre Miller, was mugged both times.
Of course, Utah got the last laugh. The Utes started an unforgettable dash through the NCAA Tournament six weeks after the loss in New Mexico. They reached the championship game, where only a second-half rally by Kentucky denied them a national title.
The 1997-98 season was Majerus’ masterpiece at Utah, which honored him by raising a replica of his famous sweater to the Huntsman Center ceiling at halftime of Saturday’s 58-55 win over Colorado.
Majerus died Dec. 1 of heart disease. He was 64.
Eight members of Majerus’ family attended the emotional ceremony. So did 20 former players, including Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Miller.
"It needs to be said he was one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all times," Van Horn said. "He pushed us to fight through adversity. He pushed us in the classroom."
Van Horn, the all-time leading scorer in Utah history, told the season-high crowd of 10,977, "He loved you. He appreciated you. There is no other place he would rather be honored than here."
A video tribute to Majerus was shown on the arena’s scoreboard, which ended with industrialist Jon Huntsman saying, "You brought us many victories and much happiness. Farewell, my friend."
Moments later, Majerus’ sweater was unveiled in the rafters.
It fittingly will hang next to Van Horn’s No. 44.
Majerus’ sister, Jodi, paced the court as she spoke during the ceremony.
"The fact there are so many of you here today ... is a testament to Rick," she said. "He was a great man, a great coach. He loved life. He enjoyed every minute of it. And he loved being coach of the Utes.
Like Van Horn, Jodi Majerus delivered a direct message to the fans.
"You have every right to claim him as yours," she said, "because he claimed you as his."
Majerus spent 14 seasons at Utah, including three that were cut short by health issues. He finished with a record of 323-95, including 152-43 in conference games.
Majerus’ teams made 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round only once.
Majerus’ record at Utah was 142-26 overall and 71-9 in conference between 1995 and 1999. The Utes made one appearance in the championship game, one in the Elite Eight and one in the Sweet 16 during that five-year span.
"Rick commanded these sidelines," said athletic director Chris Hill, who called Majerus "the greatest coach in Utah history."
Turning toward the players gathered behind him, Hill said, "Not one of his teams was selfish. That’s a credit to the players and to coach Majerus."
Hill continued: "Rick was one of a kind ... a talented man. We miss him and thank him for everything he’s done for the University of Utah."