When Porter Moser left the Saint Louis University Billikens last April, head coach Rick Majerus was left with a critical decision: on the heels of what looks to be a promising season for his squad, who best would serve the team as a teacher and best serve the staff as a leader? Majerus took his time, and earlier this summer, found his man in Jim Whitesell.
Majerus, known for his tough man-to-man defense and quick ball movement, said in his announcement of Whitesell that “Jim’s teams have always impressed me as being fundamentally well-coached … Jim has a love affair with the game, and his passion will coincide well with that of our players.”
“Coach Majerus is one of the best teachers of the game in the country, and I am thrilled to join him and this great coaching staff,” Whitesell said in a statement released by the school at the time of his hiring. “I am familiar with and strongly believe in the Jesuit education, and my wife, Connie, and I are extremely excited about being a part of the SLU community.”
What Majerus could not have expected is how quickly his new assistant would become a key member of his staff. On August 1, SLU’s head coach underwent a heart procedure in Utah, and shortly after, his mother, Alyce, passed away at age 84. Majerus was only able to attend two of the scheduled ten days of practice leading up to the Billikens’ summer trip to Canada, leaving Whitesell, along with fellow assistants Alex Jensen and Chris Harriman to run practice.
Needless to say, the Bills were in good hands. Whitesell, a 24-year head-coaching veteran, came to SLU after spending the previous seven seasons as head coach at Loyola Chicago, and holds a career record of 387-301 in those 24 seasons.
“Coach [Majerus] wanted to make sure we have a strong foundation,” Whitesell said. “We’re trying to throw at them enough so we can play a game. Ultimately we want to be good in our man-to-man defense and our man-to-man offense and moving the ball. We’re getting a little bit better at it every day. Also … we want to develop a lot of guys. We want to see a lot of guys play and try a lot of lineups together.”
So far, the international trip to Canada has given the coaching staff a chance to do just that. Although junior Kwamain Mitchell has returned to the floor, the Billikens have seen substantial production from sophomores Mike McCall, Jordair Jett and Jake Barnett. Through two games in Canada, SLU is 2-0.
“We had some good stretches, especially on the defensive end,” Whitesell said from Canada. “We’ve built a good lead but we were unable to sustain our intensity like we would have liked. It was good for us to play two games back-to-back. We are seeing some real positive things on thiswwW trip so far.”
Whitesell also brings a tremendous background in developing the student-athlete. He has graduated 95 percent of his players in 24 years as a collegiate head coach, including 100 percent of his players at Loyola Chicago. Additionally, Loyola was one of only 14 schools in the nation to have been saluted by the NCAA with a Public Recognition Award for its Academic Progress Rate score from 2008-11.
It’s a quality unmissed by Majerus. “He cares about the players as young men first and foremost, and then about what they are doing with their education and academic endeavors,” the head coach said. “Jim is a welcome addition to our staff, and his coaching, recruiting and people skills will be a big asset to our team.”