“We are just trying to take it one game at a time.”
That’s a phrase we hear so often from coaches in nearly every sport. So much so, that it’s practically gone past the point of being cliché. It’s almost difficult to take seriously. That is, unless you’re hearing it from Saint Louis interim head coach Jim Crews.
Coming from a man that’s seen it from the very top, Crews employs a rather simple approach to the game of basketball.
As a member of the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, he experienced what it feels like to finish a season unblemished. At Evansville, he tasted the sweet success of multiple conference championships and NCAA berths. At Army, he built a team from five wins his first year to double-digit victories during his final three years. And this year, after the adversity and tragedy he and his team have been through, Crews patrols a team that sits atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings.
So, following one of the best weeks in recent memory for the SLU program, it was just business as usual for the leading A-10 Coach of the Year candidate.
”Tomorrow doesn’t come until midnight tonight,” he said after a 65-61 win over No. 15-ranked Butler. “Today brings enough problems. We don’t worry about tomorrow. We’re pretty simple, we’re very simple.”
Sticking true to his word, instead of instituting a new system for the 2012-13 season, Crews has kept many of the offensive and defensive pieces that worked for the Billikens last year under late legendary coach Rick Majerus.
”He’s a really agreeable guy,” junior forward Dwayne Evans said. “He’s got some really significant sets that we’ve been running, so there’s a little bit of variation. But for the most part, it’s Coach Majerus’ system. It’s done a lot for the guys, carrying over, so you don’t have to learn completely new plays. It’s just been nice to have some stability.”
Whether it’s on or off the court, Crews has truly preached a one-game mentality to the rest of his staff and his players.
After a home win over Charlotte earlier this month, and with a big game looming against Virginia Commonwealth, Crews readily admitted that he was in the dark about the Rams – saying, “I haven’t seen anything [of VCU].”
Despite his short time being in charge of the program, his players have bought into that philosophy as well.
”That’s been a pretty good strength of theirs,” Crews said. “They don’t look too far backwards and they don’t look too far forwards. . .They’re young, they don’t look too far in front of them. I guess that’s a positive in life.”
If that time were to come, it would likely be now. At 21-5 and 10-2 in Atlantic 10 play, having won nine straight games, the Billikens are poised for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
With four games remaining on the regular season slate, SLU is in the driver’s seat to win its first conference title since 1970-71.
In Crews’ mind, though, four more games means there is a quarter of the conference season left to go. His attitude since the conference opener against Massachusetts on Jan. 10 has been that each A-10 tilt is a 1/16th piece of the final goal – an Atlantic 10 Championship.
It doesn’t matter to Crews that his team will be ranked in the Top 25, or that national media types are starting to latch on to his squad as one that could make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
”I don’t care if a guy in Idaho thinks I have a good job or not,” Crews said. “Or a guy in South Bend. Our locker room knows the truth. Our self-worth isn’t about trying to please someone here or there or some poll. You’ll never be happy in life if you do that.”
So on Wednesday, when the Billikens take the floor looking for their tenth straight victory, St. Joe’s will be the biggest game of the year.
”We can all stand up and shout at the mountains if we win a game or win a championship,” Crews said. “Our job is to teach young guys to be leaders. Those things are going to carry them in life. Games come and go, but relationships and being a great teammate don’t.”
Success isn’t simple, but Crews and SLU are proving that a basic approach can pay dividends.