It's Been A Rough Year, But Majerus Has Hope
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Rick Majerus' left leg is still a bit bruised from a freak injury that occurred when two players collided into him during a game against Bowling Green on Jan. 1, sending him into the scorer's table and ultimately to the hospital.
His heart is still broken after the summer death of his mother, Alyce, whose long battle with cancer led her to be placed in hospice care.
And he's still seething over a coaching move from just last week, when the Cleveland Cavaliers hired his top assistant and former player Alex Jensen to coach for the Cavs' D-League team four days before practice was set to begin.
"I was LeBron-ed by the Cavs," Majerus said. "It was four days before the season. I told them I'll drive Alex to Cleveland in March and pay his salary but I couldn't lose him now, not when he was in with three recruits and four days before the season."
Yet despite the personal setbacks, including needing a stent placed in an artery, Majerus, 62, is feeling as good about a season as he has since he arrived at SLU five years ago.
After Jensen's stunning departure, Majerus upgraded the staff when he hired former Evansville and Army head coach Jim Crews, who won't move to St. Louis but will be with SLU at least through the season.It's a season that begins with high hopes. The Billikens, who won just 12 games last season (6-10 in conference play), were selected to finish third in the Atlantic 10 behind Xavier and Temple. "Everything bad that could happen last year happened," Majerus said during the A-10 media day in Brooklyn. "I lost an assistant to Loyola [Porter Moser], I lost my film guy with him, I lost three out of five of my staff [with Jensen now, too], I lost my mom, I had a stent and I lost two of my best players." The Billikens had to play last season without Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell. Both players were suspended for the season. Reed didn't return and is playing professionally overseas. Mitchell stuck out the suspension and is back on the roster two seasons after averaging 15.9 points as a lead guard. Mitchell is a preseason second-team A-10 selection. The return of sophomore Mike McCall Jr., sophomore Dwayne Evans and senior Brian Conklin as well as a healthy Cody Ellis and utility starter Kyle Cassity give the Billikens a chance to live up to the preseason prediction.
Nicholson Has Bonnies Thinking Big
Can X Break Through To The Final Four?
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Xavier has Final Four ability, no question. But do the Musketeers have the mental toughness to handle being the team to beat in the A-10 yet again?"It's a challenge as a basketball player, but you want to have your back against the wall," senior guard Tu Holloway said. "You know you're going to have to be up every time we're on the road, whether that's at St. Bonaventure, UMass or Dayton. Every game is a challenge." Xavier is akin to Butler in the Horizon or Gonzaga in the WCC. The Musketeers likely will be the top draw for every A-10 team.
There's Another Baron In Town At URI
Temple coach Fran Dunphy
Richmond coach Chris Mooney
Atlantic 10 Capsules
Charlotte: The 49ers return four starters, but that's off a team that finished with just two wins in the league. Coach Alan Major has seven newcomers. "The only way to have them out there is let them sink and swim sometime," Major said. Charlotte is deeper, but don't expect major transformation. This team will be a work in progress throughout the season. The 49ers will add FBS football in 2013, and Major hopes it will help ensure that the athletic department has long-term stability.
Dayton: New coach Archie Miller is cautiously optimistic about the Flyers, saying he has plenty of pieces to keep the team intriguing. Miller said one player who isn't getting much pub but should is Kevin Dillard, the former Southern Illinois guard. The Flyers will rely on him heavily. UD has a home-heavy nonconference schedule, so it has a chance to reach A-10 play without being too bruised.
Duquesne: Dukes coach Ron Everhart is sort of starting over with eight underclassmen after finishing tied for fourth last season in the A-10. Everhart couldn't really say what kind of team he'll have this season. Some optimism surrounds 7-foot-1 Latvian center Martins Abele. The Radford transfer won't be eligible until 2012-13, but he'll have an impact on the practice court from the outset.
Fordham: The Rams were picked 14th -- last -- in the preseason poll. But you would have a hard time believing that if you talked to Tom Pecora. The coach couldn't have been more positive about his team, insisting that Fordham will surprise people. Pecora has a young roster. Let's see whether the Rams can improve on last season, when they won just one A-10 game.
George Washington: New coach Mike Lonergan will have a hard time duplicating GW's 10 A-10 wins from last season. The Colonials have senior point guard Tony Taylor back and return their top three scorers. But it was hard to get a read from Lonergan on this group. GW was picked to finish eighth, and that sounds about right.
La Salle: The Explorers lost leading scorer Aaric Murray to West Virginia, but those inside the program don't seem all that worried. Murray was hard for Dr. John Giannini and his staff to coach. Giannini is essentially starting over in Year 8, and his team was picked to finish 13th. But he showed no concern about his contract situation or his future at La Salle, choosing to remain optimistic about this team and program. The Explorers have a scorer in Earl Pettis and an intriguing transfer in Ramon Galloway, who averaged 10 points a game for South Carolina last season.
Massachusetts: The Minutemen have a real steal in Chaz Williams. He was a stud for the Hofstra Pride two seasons ago, playing next to Charles Jenkins. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said he didn't speak to one CAA coach who didn't praise Williams. The Minutemen were picked 12th in the preseason poll, but Kellogg had no issue with the spot and kind of relished being picked low.
Rhode Island: URI has won 20 or more games in four straight seasons but has yet to crack through to the NCAA tournament in Jim Baron's 10 seasons. The Rams are always competitive, a pest and a tough out, but they must find a way to break through soon. The Rams were picked 10th, and Baron said his young group will have to win by committee. Translation: There is no definitive star but a collection of players who could surprise.
Richmond: The Spiders don't have Kevin Anderson or Justin Harper anymore. Only one starter (Darien Brothers) returns, but that doesn't mean the Spiders are primed for a major fall. This isn't a Sweet 16 team like last season, but clearly there is plenty of respect for what Chris Mooney has built based on this season's fifth-place prediction. Mooney sounded pretty pumped about his team. Will UR surprise again?
St. Bonaventure: Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt was ecstatic about getting two nationally televised games on ESPNU against Illinois in Champaign and at Xavier. The Bonnies were picked to finish fourth, indicating that respect is finally coming to Olean. It might be hard to find two seniors more important to a possible bubble team than Andrew Nicholson and Michael Davenport.
Saint Joseph's: The Hawks have been mired in mediocrity for a spell, but coach Phil Martelli remains optimistic that the Hawks are close to turning the corner. The Hawks have their backcourt returning in Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, but this team once again has an odd class balance with no seniors and two juniors. Saint Joe's was picked to finish seventh. Finishing higher would be a surprise.
Saint Louis: Rick Majerus' quick move to hire Jim Crews to replace Alex Jensen could go down as a major coup. SLU essentially picked up another head coach in Crews, who understands the demands that Majerus will put on a team. The two are passionate about practice and fundamentals. This should be a good mix. They are contemporaries, and the roster is veteran enough to handle an experienced coaching staff.
Temple: The backcourt of Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore is solid and will be more than capable of scoring. The key for the Owls and the unknown is how this team can make up for the loss of Lavoy Allen, whom coach Fran Dunphy called a great defensive player. "I was looking at the tape recently, and we never had to worry about where he was defensively," Dunphy said. The Owls were picked second. Anything less would be disappointing.
Xavier: The Musketeers again have a daunting schedule. Xavier has to go to Vanderbilt and Butler; hosts Cincinnati, Purdue, Georgia and Gonzaga; and plays a tough first-round game against Big West favorite Long Beach State in the Diamond Head Classic. X could face Clemson or Kansas State in Honolulu as well. Tu Holloway predicted a 30-win season. If that happens with this schedule, the Musketeers will garner a top-two seed in the Big Dance.
SBU's Andrew Nicholson
Xavier coach Chris Mack
A-10 Preview Content
For a Blue Ribbon breakdown of all 14 A-10 teams, click here.
More Atlantic 10 coverage:
• Eamonn Brennan's "Five Things I Can't Wait To See" in the A-10
• John Gasaway answers five key questions for the conference
• New Faces, New Places: Andy Katz profiles the league's two new head coaches: Archie Miller (Dayton) and Mike Lonergan (George Washington)
• More video interviews: Katz with Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli and Xavier All-American candidate Tu Holloway.
• Katz says they're all chasing Xavier in the A-10.
• Dana O'Neil rates and analyzes the nonconference schedules of the Atlantic 10.
• For more Atlantic 10 coverage in the Nation blog, click here
Dayton coach Archie Miller
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli
Brennan's A-10 Wind Sprint