Saint Louis interim coach Jim Crews met Rick Majerus 35 years ago, but he can't remember exactly where. It was on the recruiting trail, he thinks, or maybe at a camp, or maybe just at a restaurant. Crews was an Indiana assistant then, having graduated from IU in 1976 as part of the last undefeated national championship team. Majerus was an assistant with Marquette, a team he'd take over in 1983 before moving on to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Ball State, and Utah, and finally SLU. Crews moved from Indiana to Evansville, and from there to Army, where he was fired among allegations that he had physically and verbally abused a player in 2009. The two men stayed in touch, Crews told me, and often talked about coaching together. But it was still a surprise when the phone call came just days before the start of the 2011-12 season. Al Jensen, Majerus's assistant, had left for the D-League, and the Billikens needed another coach.
"My wife and I had to make a decision within 24 hours," Crews said. "Which is not my DNA."
But he said yes. He moved, and he served as Majerus's assistant as SLU made the NCAA tournament and lost by four points to Michigan State in the round of 32. Last summer, on August 24, the school announced that Majerus was taking a leave of absence because of an ongoing heart condition. Crews was named interim coach, and during the next few months, Majerus's prognosis worsened. On December 1, with the season under way, Majerus died at age 64. (Dana O'Neil's piece on how his passing has affected the team is well worth a read.) The Billikens had just come off a loss to Washington. They were 3-3.
I spent about five hours on the highway this weekend, and before we get to the college basketball–related epiphanies for this week, I have three driving-related epiphanies:
1. In my mind, the worst breach of highway etiquette is when a driver in the left lane travels at the exact same (slow) speed as the driver in the right lane, clogging the highway and making it impossible for anyone to pass. It's selfish, stupid, and beyond infuriating. I used to deal with this problem by stewing in anger and shouting a few obscenities inside the safety of my car. Not effective. Eventually, I began tailgating in an effort to show that I hated the driver and would like to pass. More effective, but sometimes they'd become obstinate and refuse to move. But now, my evolution is complete, because I've reached a point in life where I just drive up, wait a few seconds to make sure I'm not being an impatient douche, and then hit the horn at reasonable intervals until they move. And the crazy part? It works, and I'm a lot less angry. I just sail by while the offender glowers at me from the slowpoke lane where he belongs. I'm pretty sure this new Zen-like approach contains the seeds of a great motivational book.
2. Things can get really, really odd when you're alone in a car. I once had a roommate in New York who told me he was looking forward to visiting his family in Kansas City for a holiday so he could "get in the car and just get weird." I knew exactly what he meant. And I'm not talking weird in any kind of perverse way. I'm talking, like, singing freestyle blues songs about highway signs. I'm talking about giving fake interviews in foreign accents. I'm talking about carrying on one-sided conversations with other drivers. Just letting the brain roam where it will, which is always some place bizarre. If there was a TV show that was just footage of people who thought they were alone in a car, it would be a smash hit. And if aliens ever considered invading, but that show was the only thing they watched ahead of time, they'd immediately cancel their plans, since we are clearly a planet of psychopaths.
3. If someone is exhibiting "dickish" behavior on the road, there is a 95 percent chance that he will be driving a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are the new 18-wheelers, and 18-wheelers are the new sports cars. I know a lot of good people who own pickup trucks, including my father, so please don't think I'm stereotyping. This is just a scientific conclusion culled from years of observation; among the thriving group of respectable pickup truckers, there is a group of renegade road terrorists. And if you bike? God help you, because then it goes up to 100 percent. Pickup truck people hate bikers and love to buzz them or scream out the window as they pass. Someday, I'm going to bike past a pickup trucker stopped for speeding, and I'm going to get my revenge by mocking them on the fly. And on that day, the driver will probably be my father. Sorry, Dad.
On to the hoops! Here's what we learned from the past week:
All this week, we'll be running college basketball team previews for the 20 (or so) Most Interesting Teams, starting today with the Dangerous Outsiders and working our way up to the Big Guns.
Kurosawa's film Yojimbo begins with a nameless samurai entering a town ravaged by two rival gangs. Both sides try to hire the strange warrior after he slaughters three men without breaking a sweat, but instead of committing his loyalty to either one, he decides to go rogue and take them both down. Murder and intrigue ensue, and by the end of the movie, only the samurai remains.* When the last gangster falls, the Man With No Name leaves town, never to be seen again. Incidentally, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (starring Clint Eastwood) was a Yojimbo remake, as was Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis and Christopher Walken. Films directly inspired by Yojimbo include Django, The Warrior and the Princess,Lucky Number Slevin, and Sukayaki Western Django (which doubles as the weirdest movie of all time).
*Sorry, but there's a 50-year statute of limitations on having to write "SPOILER ALERT!," and Yojimbo was made in 1961.
Clearly, there is something compelling about the dangerous outsider figure, and it seems as good a place as any to begin this year's college basketball preview. For a Tuesday appetizer, I've used real science and precise intuition to identify four teams, ranked near the bottom of the top 25 or not ranked at all, who could become 2012's Man With No Name. They're unheralded, unexpected, and capable of surviving amid general destruction.
Florida State: The Grinders
The Gist: Playing Florida State is like trying to break a piece of steel. You'll probably give up after a while, and even if you succeed, the result won't be worth the effort. The Seminoles, last year's ACC tournament champions, lost four starters to graduation, and are ranked no. 24 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. But considering they'll be led by 6-foot-5 guard Michael Snaer — the conference's top defender, a lethal shooter, and the best senior leader any team could hope for — that no. 24 is almost criminally low. Here are a couple of quotes about Snaer from last season: