Basketball • Friends speak of demanding yet inspiring personality at former Utah coach's funeral.
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Milwaukee • Smiling, chuckling and pausing to gather themselves as they recounted the complex life of Rick Majerus during a funeral Mass on Saturday, longtime friend Jon M. Huntsman Sr. and former player Al Jensen detailed the ex-University of Utah basketball coach's demanding nature, loyal friendship and occasional nakedness.
"There wasn't a man as unique as coach; you can't compare him to anyone else," Jensen told several hundred friends and fans who filled the historic Church of the Gesu on the campus of Marquette University, the Jesuit school where Majerus began his coaching career as a student assistant to Al McGuire.
That distinctive personality included tales of Majerus' unabashedly being caught undressed, as Huntsman and Jensen both recalled in their formal remarks.
Majerus died Dec. 1 in Los Angeles at age 64 while awaiting a heart transplant, following a history of heart issues that surfaced soon after he began his 15-year tenure at Utah in 1989.
Jensen concluded that recent descriptions of Majerus' coaching career only begin to tell the story of the man he knew well, having played for him at Utah and coached with him at Saint Louis University. Majerus spent the last five seasons of his career at SLU before taking a leave of absence in August.
Jensen never has been as angry with anyone as he occasionally was with Majerus, he said, but he also greatly respected the coach who led the Utes to the 1998 national championship game before losing to Kentucky.
"He pushed you to your utmost limits," said Jensen, who now coaches the Canton Charge of the NBA D-League.
Other ex-Utes only could agree with such a characterization of Majerus, who posted a 323-95 record at Utah. Keith Van Horn, who was accompanied by his wife and four children from Denver, Andre Miller, Hanno Mottola, Michael Doleac and Nick Jacobson were among nearly a dozen former Utah players who attended the service, along with NBA figures such as George Karl, Doc Rivers and Del Harris.
Several other friends came from Salt Lake City, including some who wore the commemorative "RM" patches that were distributed to fans attending Wednesday's Utah-Boise State game at the Huntsman Center.
Saint Louis' 15 current players, listed as official pallbearers, were joined in the procession by Majerus' former players from other schools. In Milwaukee, Majerus coached at every level from eighth grade to the NBA.
"I'm grateful for what he taught us and how much he cared for us," Doleac said after the service.
Ute athletic director Chris Hill was struck by "how many people he's touched all different kinds of folks."
Majerus, who is survived by two sisters, was praised for his devotion to his mother, Alyce, who died last year. Huntsman also spoke of Majerus' compassion for Huntsman's son Markie, 37, who he described as severely disabled and heartbroken by Majerus' passing.
Besides attesting to Majerus' "extra-long practices" and the way he "by no means was a typical father during practice sessions," Huntsman emphasized Majerus' loyalty, humor and influence on others.
Huntsman recounted a Catholic charity event attended by Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where Majerus recommended that each church would benefit if "the Catholics would pay more tithing and play less Bingo and the Mormons would pay less tithing and play more Bingo."
Huntsman also quoted from a Salt Lake Tribune guest editorial by his granddaughter, Liddy, who wrote that Majerus' "love for the game of basketball made me realize what life is all about: To find your passion and live it."