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March 18, 2013

NCAA BASKETBALL (MARCH MADNESS): 'That's 1 MILLION times bigger than 9 TRILLION!'

Welcome back to BracketRacket.

Think of it as one-stop shopping for all your NCAA tournament needs. We'll have interviews with celebrity alumni drawn from sports, entertainment and politics, plus "bracket-buster" picks, news, gossip, videos, photos, stats, notes and quotes from around the tourney sites — all of it bundled into a quick read to give full-time fans and officer-poolers alike something to sound smart about during the day ahead. Look for it daily through the end of the tournament.

So without further ado ...

NO FUSS, NO MUSS, STILL PLENTY OF MAJERUS

Just like parenting, a big part of coaching is teaching kids to play well together, especially come tournament time. So even though the late Rick Majerus isn't in the frame, most of what you need to know about Saint Louis University's chances heading into the NCAAs can be found here: http://t.co/81ZIMICb4R .

It's a photo of the Billikens team watching the tournament selection show Sunday afternoon at a Best Buy in Secaucus, N.J.

And yes, that's the Atlantic 10 tournament trophy sitting at their feet, just to the left of the TV.

They won it a few hours earlier in Brooklyn, beating VCU to cap what's already been a whirlwind regular season, and were on their way to the airport when they ran into New York traffic. Some celebration that was turning out to be.

But without any fuss — because that is the Saint Louis way — the team bus pulled off the road and into the parking lot at Best Buy to find out where they were seeded (No. 4 in the Midwest) and who they were matched against (New Mexico State).

Soon after their arrival, store manager Jen Hart tweeted: "I brought them in the Magnolia room" — who knew the rooms at Best Buy had names? — "and the next thing I know there (are) 30 guys there."

Afterward, she sent this dispatch back to corporate headquarters in Minneapolis: "A couple of minutes later, they all started screaming. They thanked us 100 times, helped move the chairs back and got on the bus. Customers were asking what was going on. It was really cool. They were really nice guys."

Also absent from the photo — but not from the celebration — was Jim Crews, another coaching lifer and close pal whom Majerus enlisted to take over at Saint Louis as his own health started failing. Majerus, a giant of a man who died of heart failure in December at age 64, was the best dinner guest in America. He loved basketball and eating, and he was a genius at both. Heck, his autobiography is titled "My Life on a Napkin."

But Majerus was even better at teaching kids to seize every other opportunity life put in front of them, too. He grew up the son of a union stalwart from Milwaukee who dragged him along on open-housing marches, and his recruiting pitches were so honest that he always won over the parents, if not the kids. When Majerus was at Utah, Keith Van Horn's mother called and asked him to break the news to her son that Van Horn's father had a fatal heart attack. The coach took him to a 24-hour greasy spoon called Bill and Nada's in downtown Salt Lake City, where the two talked and pushed their eggs around the plate until Van Horn's flight home the next morning.

This Saint Louis team was recruited and nurtured by Majerus, and it's a tribute to Crews that they play the way Majerus so loved: sharing the ball on offense and zealously covering each other's backs on the other end of the floor. It didn't hurt of course, that Crews learned those same principles playing guard for Bobby Knight's undefeated national championship team in 1976, and employed them during 17 seasons coaching at Evansville and 7 more at Army.

He's such a good teacher, in fact, that even though the Billikens have won 15 of their last 16. and 11 of those by double digits — another good omen come tournament time — Crews has been careful to make sure they understand what's most important about Majerus' legacy.

"It would be great to say, 'Hey, this is for Rick. This is for Rick. This is for Rick,'" he explained. "But, you know, what if we lose? I just don't buy into that.

"Rick's life and friendship and his coaching and the relationships that he had and the people that he touched — it's a lot bigger than winning a game or winning a championship or having a good year."

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