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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 04 2012

Schnepf: Jacobson remembers Majerus as a one-of-a-kind coach

Fargo - The last time Nick Jacobson saw Rick Majerus, they had just finished eating some brownies and ice cream late at night in St. Louis.

“I shook his hand and like always I said, ‘Thanks coach, see you soon,’ ” Jacobson recalled of last year’s visit.

Perhaps it was a fitting way to say goodbye to Majerus, who last Saturday died of heart failure at the age of 64. Jacobson, a Fargoan who played basketball for Majerus at the University of Utah from 2000 to 2004, remembers talking a lot of basketball that night in St. Louis – and eating a lot of food.

If there were two things Majerus loved, it was basketball and food. Unfortunately, it may have been his love for food that eventually caused his death.

“He was a food nut,” said Jacobson, who after playing professionally in Europe for a few years now lives in San Diego. “He wanted you to order as much food as you could. You were constantly turning down food.”

The 340-pound Majerus has been described as irreverent, passionate, humorous and unconventional. Married only briefly, he lived in a Salt Lake City Marriott hotel room while he coached at Utah from 1989 to 2004.

That’s where Majerus made his name as a coach, leading the Utes to the 1998 NCAA championship game. He had only one losing season in 25 years of coaching at four different schools, amassing more than 500 wins.

“I believe he was one of the greatest minds in basketball,” said Tim Jacobson, Nick’s father who coaches girls basketball at Fargo Shanley.

It was at Shanley’s old school where Tim first met Majerus. Visiting Fargo to recruit Nick, Majerus walked into the Shanley gymnasium, wearing his signature sweatpants and sweatshirt. Majerus apologized for his late arrival, explaining that his daily jog got interrupted by a stop at the Dairy Queen.

“From that point on, we had a real nice relationship,” Tim recalled. “He appreciated family. It was a great chapter of our lives to be able to know him.”

And it was a demanding chapter for Nick. After finishing his high school career at Roseville (Minn.), he redshirted his first year at Utah after Majerus told him to become a better defensive player.

Nick described his time at Utah as a battle every day filled with constant pressure. He said Majerus, meticulous in his philosophy of stressing fundamental basketball, was relentless.

If his toe was pointed the wrong direction in a defensive stance, Nick ran sprints. He even endured the wrath of Majerus as a redshirt who didn’t even play in a blowout loss against Louisville.

“The first thing he does when he comes into the locker room is he starts cursing me out for not preparing the team well enough during practice,” Nick recalled. “You quickly realized that if he never yelled at you, he probably thought you were a bad player.

“In a twisted sort of way, you were almost yearning for him to get on your case. I was very fortunate. Coach really liked me.”

That’s because Nick was his shooter, who averaged 13 points per game as a sophomore and junior and 16 points as a senior when the Utes advanced to the NCAA tournament. Nick kept reminding himself to practice harder than anyone else so he would be ahead of the game and avoid the wrath of Majerus.

For Nick and the rest of his players, the games were actually a nice break for them.

“He wasn’t a big game guy, but practice was his life,” Nick said. “But with him, you knew why you were there. I can’t tell you how important that is as a player. If you weren’t playing, he would tell you why. He was very straightforward and direct.”

So when Nick joins many former players at Majerus’ funeral Saturday in Milwaukee, they will have plenty of stories to share.

“I’m sure there will be plenty to laugh about … even the bad memories bounded us as a team,” Nick said. “That guy was one of the most original human beings that I ever met. I don’t think I will ever meet another quite like him.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com