Fri, 01/22/2010 - 20:58 — Bill Kintner
ST. LOUIS – Tonight’s adventure takes place on the western frontier of the Atlantic 10 Conference on the campus of Saint Louis University in the brand-spanking new Chaifetz Arena.
Before coming back to campus they played in a hockey arena called the Keil Center, then re-named the Savvis Center and later the Scottrade Center. It was too big, not on campus and the fans had to pay NHL prices for food and parking. A crowd of 7000 looked small in that 20,000 plus seat professional arena. Now the Billiken fans are kicking back in a comfortable 10,600 seat arena, with good food, beer and plenty of parking nearby.
It is a mild winter evening outside, but in the Chaifetz Arena which opened last year, the band is loud, the student section is rowdy and the cheerleaders are pretty.. and no male chearleaders either! They have a big squad, I counted 20 cheerleaders, all with a wholesome look, like I would expect from a good Catholic school, plus they had big smiles and no tattoos.
On the flip side St. Louis coach Rick Majerus is still over-weight and dressed like an aging bouncer at a union hall, wearing a black mock turtle neck and grey slacks that are big enough to provide shelter for a family of Haitians. But the fans don’t care how much their beloved coach weighs or what he wears, as long as he the Billikens win and this year they are winning with an 11-6 record coming into tonight’s game.
I did notice as the Billikens exited the court at halftime and after the game, the fans in the courtside seats near corner near where they exit, put their pop corn under their seat and secure their hot dogs and beer with both hands as coach Majerus walked by.
All is right the college basketball world here in the Midwest. The Billikens seem to be on the right track, the fans are loving their new arena and the Atlantic 10 is having a banner year. The A-10 has an unbelievable six teams ranked in the top 31 of the RPI and 17 wins against BCS opponents. Temple is ranked 17th in the AP Poll.
In tonight’s game St. Louis rolled the Rams 75-48. Fordham (2-15, 0-5) was never in the game. Fordham dumped coach Derek Whittenburg on December 3rd and he was replaced by 29 year old assistant coach Jared Grasso. It will be at least a year or two before Fordham becomes competitive in the A-10.
After the game the funs starts because that is when you get to hear coach Majerus talk about the game, basketball and life. After about 15 minutes of taking questions the sports information director Chuck Yahng said, “one more question.” Majerus answered it and talked for another 10 minutes. He is not quite as funny as Miami coach Charlie Coles, but is every bit as interesting and incredibly blunt.
He said he would give his players a day off to catch up on their school work because the four and five day trips to Virginia, Philly and the East Coast really make it hard for his players to keep up with their academics.
That comment brought him around to two of his favorite subjects which are: St. Louis joining the Missouri Valley Conference and food.
“Who are our natural rivals in the A-10? I can’t really think of any,” said Majerus. When some writers named Dayton and Xavier as possible rivals, he said that Dayton brings fans to St. Louis mostly because it is relatively close and an interesting city to visit.
He said trips to Bradley, Evansville and Indiana State would cost a lot less than going to Philadelphia, New York and DC. The cost for food, buses and rental cars are really high compared to going to cities in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“You can take your whole team to Peoria and feed then BBQ for almost nothing compared to big the A-10 cities,” explained Mejerus. “If you care about academics and money then the Missouri Valley makes sense. Everything is about money, do you want to go to New York, Philly, Charlotte and Rhode Island or go to Bradley, Southern Illinois and Indiana State?”
He also managed to get the subject of racism in too, claiming that the TSA and NCAA single out his Black players to be searched and take drug tests. Majerus speaks his mind and it is refreshing.
I don’t know if Saint Louis is going to end up in the Missouri Valley or stay in the Atlantic 10 Conference but with the beautiful Chaifetz Arena they are positioned to provide their fans with a lot of fun winter nights in the years to come.