Majerus: As war starts, tourney should stop

Utah coach: `Some guys are going to die' in Iraq

Williams says play on

Nashville notebook

NCAA Tournament

March 21, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Utah's Rick Majerus is coaching in another NCAA tournament, but world events have dampened his enthusiasm for this year's event.

In fact, he says the tournament should be halted because of the U.S. war in Iraq.

"My father was one of seven brothers, and all of them were in the service," Majerus said yesterday. "My father was in Okinawa. I had an uncle die in Normandy. I had classmates die in Vietnam. One-third of the people we have over there are reservists. Where I swim, the hotel where I live, the restaurant where I eat, some of the people who work there are in the National Guard.

"If we had a ground assault, we ought to call the tournament off. ... I talked to our team about this. Some guys are going to die over there. Our players understand how well they have it, that they're on the gravy train. I say we should stop the tournament. I told my team that."

Utah is the ninth seed in the Midwest Regional, part of which was shipped here under the "pod" system. If the Utes knock off Oregon today, Sunday's second round probably will pit them against top-seeded Kentucky, which eliminated Utah every year from 1996 to 1998, the last time in the national championship game.

The Utes are without their most experienced player, Britton Johnsen, who is sidelined for the rest of the season with an enlarged spleen. Johnsen, a 6-foot-10 senior forward, averages 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds.

"Not only do you lose the statistics, but you lose your cohesiveness, you lose his 32 minutes a game," Majerus said. "I feel badly for Britton. He is a better kid than he is a player. Putting in the perspective of the war, I told him that if this is the worst thing that ever happens to him, he will have a great life."

Perspective check

With the war in Iraq hovering over the NCAA tournament, Maryland coach Gary Williams said his players are receiving quite a lesson in putting sports in perspective.

Williams also was glad that the NCAA had decided not to postpone any tournament games, after its president, Myles Brand, had consulted with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge about the possibility.

"I don't think [the war] is a distraction, but I think it's something we should all think about. I think it's important that our players understand this is the way things are in 2003. The country, the world, has changed since Sept. 11," Williams said.

"I think what Tom Ridge and Myles Brand did was a good thing, because you have to show a strong front. You can't be intimidated to change your lifestyle. We have to be tough enough to focus on basketball when it's time to play, but at the same time really understand what's going on out there."

Et cetera

It's less than a three-hour drive from Lexington to the Gaylord Entertainment Center, which should be loaded with Kentucky fans. The Wildcats won the 2001 Southeastern Conference tournament in the same building, took two NCAA games here in 1993 and should extend the nation's longest winning streak to 24 games against Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis. ... The South Regional pod in Nashville, meanwhile, includes Troy State, which is in only its 10th season in Division I. The Trojans earned their first NCAA berth by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, but they are expected to struggle against third-seeded Xavier and David West.

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

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