With legendary head coach Rick Majerus departing the Saint Louis University men's basketball program on August 24, Jim Crews took over the reigns of the Billikens.
As one of the top returning teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference, SLU has a lot to be excited about with regards to the upcoming season.
BillikenReport.com spoke with Crews on Wednesday night to pick his brain on various subjects.
A 354-game winner himself, Crews is no stranger to hardwood success. Like many things in life, success doesn't come without a couple unexpected bumps along the road.
"[The offseason] has been good," he said. "I know some things were not expected and everything else, but we have good kids and the staff is really good. Everyone has been really helpful in the athletic department and elsewhere. The players have been giving a good effort. That's kind of where we are. . .I learned a long time ago that life throws us some curveballs and knuckleballs and knock-down pitches, so you got to adjust to life."
That mentality will be put to the test early and often during the 2012-13 campaign, as the Billikens have high expectations after being selected to finish second in the A-10.
While the coaching staff features several new faces (Jim Platt, Tanner Bronson, and Mike Lepore), the players will largely be the same. The loss of Brian Conklin and Kyle Cassity will loom large from a leadership perspective, but the nucleus of scoring remains.
Obviously Brian and Kyle were, as you said, instrumental to our success big-time," Crews said. "That's kind of the beauty of college basketball. They were here four years and then graduated. Not only graduated, but graduated early and got their Masters. It's time for them to move on. Now you have a new season. The [guys] are a year older. . .we're going to strive to put guys in a place to succeed."
In Conklin's place, you could see a lot of sophomore big man John Manning. The six-foot-eleven East Coast transplant has received high praise from Majerus in the past, and Crews shared some thoughts on him as well.
"I don't know exactly what the end result [with John] will be," he said. "That's part of the challenge I think in athletics, everyone wants to forecast the future. Usually it's not that clear, it ends up getting foggy. John has developed a much better Division I level of thinking. There's such a difference between high school and college. The speed of the game, the length of the floor, all those adjustments. He was real bright-eyed and bushy-tailed last year and now he's just got a much better knowledge of the system of play. I think he's learned how to come and compete. You can't just come to practice and start wanting to work hard. You have to get yourself in a frame of mind to compete and listen. That's part of the growing and developing process. He's certainly on the right path and we're encouraged about John. He's got good hands, he can run the floor, he's a tough kid. We just have to keep putting things together day-by-day."
It's also quite the learning experience for freshmen Jared Drew and Keith Carter. Playing alongside such seasoned players can be a bit difficult at first.
"It's been a small sample size," Crews said. "Two hours a week for six weeks or whatever it has been, but they're doing well. They're playing against a lot of veterans and they're getting learning lessons. They get knocked down, but they get back up. The train isn't going to slow down for freshmen. That's this year, last year, and next year. That's not our belief system. They have to grab on and hold on and it's kind of like drinking from a firehose. It just comes fast and furious at the freshmen."
With VCU and Butler entering the league, the A-10 has a formidable bunch of 16 squads ready to vie for the title at the Barclays Center in early 2013.
Crews, who admitted he didn't know much about the A-10 before joining the Billikens' staff, said that the conference is one well-worth following.
The A-10 has now hit the national scene for being known as one heck of a basketball league," he said. "I'm sure the SLU fans are getting more and more used to the A-10. Man, the competition and the basketball ability, there are just some really good teams."
Being a new head coach in a tough league will create challenges, but he hasn't been able to turn to his old bench mate quite yet for assistance and knowledge.
"[Majerus'] family has circled the wagons," Crews said. "I really haven't talked to him. A couple text messages, but he hasn't had any contact with people outside [his family]."
For now, Crews and his staff's task is to find a way to win as many games as possible and then continue to work on providing quality players for years to come.
"Any time you have a product like Saint Louis, I think it's a very good situation," he said. "It's a very personalized and individualized education. They know your name. It's not a number situation where they just know your social security number. It's very personal, but you also have a big-time basketball situation. The smallness of campus atmosphere and big-time basketball. We have great fan support and it's a very unique opportunity. It's a really good situation for kids."
With a plethora of talent returning from last year's team, don't be surprised to see SLU at or near the top of the Atlantic 10 for the 2012-13 campaign with Crews at the helm.