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Rick Majerus was laid to rest this past weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was 64. His well-documented feeble heart was his Waterloo. Many around Indiana remember him as that big man who coached Ball State's basketball squad between 1987 and 1989 before heading to Utah. Others, including former BSU player Mike Giunta, remember him as their coach.
Out of Carmel High School in 1987, and the leading scorer in the eight-county Indianapolis metro area, Giunta and his 23.7 points-per-game scoring average were recruited by many colleges. He was a sharp shooter. As his family vacationed in Florida during spring break in 1987, Giunta recalls that Majerus, just one month into his short coaching career at Ball State, hopped on a plane and flew down to meet with him and his family there.
“That was a huge deal,” says Giunta, now an advertising account executive here at IM. “He met with me, ran on the beach with my dad. We all got along great. He was very up front and very honest with us."
The Cardinals skipper was late to the recruiting fray to get Giunta. His senior year behind him, Giunta had a decision to make and at the time, leaned toward attending the University of Evansville. That changed with Majerus’s visit to Florida. “I liked his history as a coach and who he coached with,” says Giunta. “He coached with Al McGuire, who once called him one of the greatest basketball minds in the country.”
Thus off to Muncie went the Carmel graduate to play for the Cardinals, who were quietly becoming contenders under the guidance of their new coach. As a freshman, Giunta saw quite a bit of playing time. “He was a tough coach to play for. He was very demanding and was hard on the players,” says Giunta. “Practices were long, and we ran a lot. They were difficult. But his door was always open, and I could talk to him about anything.”
The story on Majerus was that he was a great coach, and a funny guy not all that concerned with his personal appearance. “I went into the bathroom at University Gym [where Ball State played home games and practiced]," says Giunta. "There he was, standing buck naked reading the paper. He really didn’t care what other people thought of him.”
During many team practices, Giunta says, Majerus would drop his pants and have the trainers “powder him up so he wouldn’t chafe right there on the floor.”
Giunta, who emailed with his former coach in the past and saw him once in Indianapolis at an NCAA basketball Final Four event, was unaware recently that Majerus was in such poor health. “No idea,” he says. “But earlier, when he announced he wasn’t going to coach at all this year, I knew something was up.”
“We were always very well prepared for an opponent," Guinta says. "Every one of the players had notebooks, we watched a great amount of video, and we always knew what offenses and defenses our opponents were running and what they were called. He was a great coach—a great coach that demanded a lot from his players.”
Photo courtesy Mike GiuntaGiunta will be inducted into the Ball State Basketball Hall of Fame in February 2013. He is pictured at left in the photo.
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