Two years ago, Saint Louis coach Jim Crews joined Rick Majerus’ squad as an assistant. A year ago, everything changed when Crews was promoted to interim head coach as a result of Majerus’ health challenges and eventual death in December 2012.
Crews was promoted to head coach this season, and his Billikens are 9-2 just a few weeks prior to the start of Atlantic 10 play. Crews recently spoke with ESPN.com about the 2013-14 season and the legendary coach with an undeniable impact on the Saint Louis program and college basketball.
ESPN: How have the new rules affected your team this season?
Crews: I think the biggest one is the block-charge because they’re calling like 95 percent of them blocks, it seems to me, because they’ve changed the rules. So if they err, they’re going on the block side. Actually, we’ve called a bunch of coaches to see what they’re doing to make adjustments and I haven’t really heard anyone who has a definite answer on that situation. I guess you just gotta get there earlier.
ESPN: What did your team take away from those tough losses to Wisconsin and Wichita State?
Crews: [Saturday] night we played against Wofford, who really doesn’t have a great record and is not a national name or anything. But I think this is where college basketball is. But they are as tough-minded as you can be. They run great stuff. Everything was very, very difficult. I thought our team grew [Saturday] night. I thought we really stayed the process. ... So when you play the teams like Wisconsin, Wichita State, it just kind of tells you where you are and what you have to improve on. Every possession is a really important possession. And when you can get a team mentally tough that has a purpose each and every time down the floor, the better you are. So you’re trying to get a consistency with it. If you’re inconsistent with things, then you’re going to get hurt at this level.
Crews: Tremendously. I think their knowledge of the system that Rick put in is impeccable. So as a coach, I kind of lean on them. ... We’re always talking in terms of ‘What do you guys see and what do you guys think?’ Sometimes we think they’ve got a better answer, sometimes we don’t. That’s what makes it enjoyable because they’ve invested and they understand why things work and don’t work instead of just doing whatever the dumb coach says. They understand the bigger picture. That’s a great thing. That’s a really great thing.
ESPN: A year ago, Coach Majerus passed away. How difficult was that period for you and your program?
Crews: The emotions, when you have so many people affected by it, I mean we all came to Saint Louis because of Rick -- the coaches and the players. And so all the young guys were affected in different ways because to some he was a father figure and to all he was a great coach and the older guys he was a friend to. And then from us coaches, he was a friend-type situation and a peer situation because some of us had been in the coaching profession a long time with him. It’s kind of like a family. Everyone goes through their emotions at different times. You don’t know when your emotions are going to hit. So it’s not like a three-day process or a week process. Some guys are affected a month later. Some guys are affected right off the bat earlier. Since we were all going through it, that was the common denominator. We were all very affected by it. That was the negative of his death. The positive part of going through that process is we were all doing it at the same time and it just didn’t affect one group or the other. It makes the game, and I think the vision became very clear, that it’s just a basketball game. It’s not life or death. And I think our guys really enjoy playing basketball, which it should be. We all take it seriously. But sometimes we all take it a little bit too seriously.
ESPN: How difficult was it to serve as the interim head coach in that situation?
Crews: I actually think the interim, it might have worked to an advantage. The only reason I was there was because I wanted to be there. ... We were there to help in any way we could, try to put the players in a position to be successful on and off the court. And Rick was always a big proponent of it’s the kids’ program, it’s their team, it’s their season and we’re there to serve them. It’s their time. They only get to go through college once. We had a collection of guys who were very mature. Those were big advantages for us.
ESPN: Coach Majerus had a great sense of humor. What’s your favorite funny story about him?
Crews: We played two years ago at Rhode Island and I think it was the next-to-last game of the year and if we would’ve won, we would’ve had a chance at the championship. We got off to a good lead and our kids wanted to beat them bad, not that they wanted to beat them bad, but just so it was over with and wasn’t close. ... They got too anxious. Anyways, they beat us. So I’m sitting out in the hallway, Rick had already addressed the team and everything. So about 20 minutes later, we get in the car, the team gets on the bus, another assistant is driving (the car) and Rick gets in the front seat and I’m in the back seat. Rick doesn’t even turn around and he goes, ‘I bet you’re glad you’re not the head coach.’ And I just start laughing because that’s exactly what I was thinking. I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for the last 20 minutes.’ We just started laughing. It was good, it was good.
ESPN: What does Saint Louis have to do to compete for the Atlantic 10 title this year?
Crews: Probably consistency. I always say to win championships you’ve gotta be awfully good and you’ve gotta catch some breaks. ... Just consistency. I think that’s been our strength the last few years. That’s hard. It’s a long season. It’s up and down. A lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of emotion. You’re lining up every three days and you’re playing someone good.