A team….

After three weeks off I have finally returned to blogging. For those of you who may not know my dad, Mike, passed away during that time. Obviously I did not feel like writing much. He was my best friend and someone I could always talk to about anything…most of the time it was sports. So with him missing my sports talk has been lacking and I thought I would get back at it. Now came what would my first post be about, well what better topic to talk about than something close to my dad. Me and my family lost an important member of our team but what a team it was. So what is the true definition of a team??

When you look around the sports scene today you see loaded teams, like the Miami Heat or New York Yankees, you see teams with high expectations like the Anahheim (Yes they are still Anaheim) Angels. You see teams that are inconsistent (St. Louis Blues) and teams that are still growing (St. Louis Rams). Then there are teams that seem to always be strong, like the St. Louis Cardinals, who belief in the Cardinal way. There are many such ways to break down a team but what truly defines team?

A team, as defined in the dictionary is, a number of people associated in a group or activity. That is a pretty vauge description. My idea of a team is a group of people that come together for one purpose, one goal. They make sacrifices and put the whole ahead of the individual. Where do you find such a team? You need look no further than downtown St. Louis, at the 2012-13 Saint Louis University men’s basketball TEAM. 

What this group of men have done is remarkable and needs to be acknowledged. Here is a group of young men, men who are still trying to figure out who they are in life, coming together to put together one of the more unexpected seasons in collegiate basketball history. Oh you say they won 25 games last season, so it isn’t unexpected. Well last season was just the beginning of this team’s hard work and it has continued through to this season. 

The start of this team’s story begins in 2007 with the hiring of Rick Majerus. Majerus, long known for his outlandish behavior (pulling down his pants in practice) he was also highly regarded as one of the top coaches in the country. It was almost out of the blue when he was hired and some wondered if it would work. The first few years were mediocre and I recall numerous articles wondering if he was the right fit. But he stuck with SLU and SLU stuck with him. Thats what families (or teams) do. The first hints at success were in 2009-10 when the Billikens won 20 games. But then came a dismal 12 win season the following year. In addition to the lackluster showing on the court SLU had trouble off the court with notable suspensions. The pressure was turned up.

However they stood by each other. Kwamain Mitchell, one of the players suspended, returned to the team and the Bills rolled off 25 wins last year, including a win in the NCAA Tournament. Things were going good for SLU. Then this fall Head Coach Rick Majerus passed away. A man that had built this team from scratch, who remembers the Billikens fielding a team without full complement of scholarship players. But he did it. He made it work and he finally got players into his system, ones he believed in. Players like Mitchell, a diminutive point guard that was’t the fastest or the best shooter, but a player that would leave his all on the floor. Or Cody Ellis, a player from down under coming to a new country. Players like Jordair Jett, Mike McCall or Dwayne Evans. Players the large schools overlooked and didn’t want. But these players together, they worked. They were a team. The dividends were finally starting to show and then the Billikens loose their leader,their coach. How would the respond?

The Billikens could have easily folded and rested on their success from last season. But they didn’t. Instead the Billikens continued to live up to Majerus’ belief in them. Under interim head coach Jim Crewes, a man who was content with being an assistant coach, the Billikens continued to grow. Here was a team not ranked, picked 2nd in the Atlantic 10, without a “star” player. A team that beat North Texas at home by four and even lost to Rhode Island in overtime at home. A team that was sitting at 12-5 and 1-2 in conference play in mid-January. How would this season turn out? 

That is when this team showed what they are made of. Following that embarrassing loss to Rhode Island the Billikens rolled off an 11-game winning streak that saw them take down Atlantic 10 powers Butler and VCU. During that stretch SLU became a team. SLU was winning not because of a talented roster but because they worked together. 

SLU doesn’t have a roster full of All-Americans like Kentucky or the quality of a standout future NBA draftee like Duke, yet here were the Billikens taking down anyone in their way and doing so with such precision and execution it made other coaches speechless (Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart). The Billikens were dominating in ways that only a true team could; with balanced scoring, relentless defense and execution. The Billikens know that they can not compete with other teams based solely on skill (and that is not to say they do not have skilled players) but they had to win as a team. 

While I will always love watching the SLU teams of the early 90’s when Erwin Claggett, Scotty Highmark and H Waldman were raining three’s on opponents; there is something even more beautiful watching this year’s SLU team win as a TEAM. In a day of age when it is all about the highlights, the next big superstar, one and dones, this year’s SLU team shows that you don’t need all of those things for success. Sometimes success comes to those who work together and a team can out play skill. Success can also come when a group of people work together and put a greater goal ahead of their success. Now the Billikens are sitting on 25 wins once more, won their first ever conference title since the 1970’s and are ranked #16 in the country. They have shown what a TEAM is and that is why I am rooting for this year’s Billikens to go as far as possible. They are the true definition of a TEAM. GO BILLS!!!

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