January 29, 2010
By David Driver
For the Deseret News
Used with permission
WASHINGTON — Alex Jensen, at some point late Saturday night, will go online or check his phone to find out the score of the BYU-Utah game in Provo. But you will have to excuse Jensen, the former Ute star from Viewmont High, if he doesn't follow the game as closely as he could.
Jensen has his own Division I conference showdown to deal with on the other side of the country, though the passion for Saint Louis at Richmond in the Atlantic 10 Conference may not rival that of BYU hosting Utah. Jensen, 33, is in his third year on the coaching staff at Saint Louis and his second as an assistant with the Billikens.
The man in charge is head coach Rick Majerus, who coached the Utes from 1989-2004. Jensen was a key player on the 1997-98 team that went 30-4 and lost in the NCAA title game to Kentucky.
"It has been great. I guess I am biased since I played with him, but there is no better person to learn from," Jensen said. "I learned a lot from him as a player. Who better to learn from?"
Looking back, Jensen has fond memories of the Utah-BYU rivalry. "My first year (in 1994-95) they were pretty good. The first game I started (in the series) was at their place. They won that game but we won the return trip," said Jensen.
"If you won that game you had a good chance to win the league," he added. "My memories were of full arenas. Like all rivalries it was more important than just another game."
Jensen, who served an LDS Church mission in London after his freshman season with the Utes, graduated from Utah in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in finance. His family still lives in the Salt Lake area, and Jensen owns a home in Utah in which his sister lives.
What are his best memories?
"For all the time and work you do, it is winning, which we did a lot of, and some of my best friends today are teammates and coaches. Winning with people that you had a good time with, I have come to appreciate that," said Jensen.
The wins have been harder to come by at Saint Louis, which is 12-7 overall and 3-2 in the Atlantic 10 going into Saturday's game at Richmond. Last year Saint Louis was 18-14, and in the first year under Majerus in 2007-08 the team was 16-15.
Jensen played six years of pro basketball in Turkey and also played for a CBA title team in 2002-03. When he learned that Majerus had taken the Saint Louis job, Jensen joined the staff. "I felt it was time for me to move on," he said. "Everything I have learned has come from him."
"Alex was the best defensive player and rebounder that I have ever coached," Majerus said in 2007 when he hired Jensen. "Alex is a student of the game and court smart. He will bring those attributes to coaching."
As an assistant Jensen has typical duties such as scouting and recruiting and focuses on post play and defense.
"The hardest thing is recruiting," said Jensen, who notes Saint Louis is a strong academic school a long way from many of its conference foes. "I thought it would be easier. Some people are built for it. I have gotten better at it. Coach says all the time that players win games and not coaches."
Jensen was the most active of the three Saint Louis assistants during the game at GW, standing and hollering instructions on many occasions. During a timeout with 1:32 left in regulation and his team up 53-51, Jensen stood with his back to the court as the players listened to Majerus. Jensen then walked around to the baseline side of the group and gave some instructions to sophomore guard Kyle Cassity, who thew the ball inbounds near the team bench after the stop in play. Jensen said after the game it is agonizing as a coach to watch a team lose a lead. "As a coach you don't have as much control as a player," said Jensen, who works out regularly with the team in practices. "It is difficult."
Porter Moser, the associate head coach for Saint Louis, did not know Jensen when they joined the staff in 2007. Moser is the former head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock and Illinois State. "He won so much at Utah. He is a hard worker," Moser said of Jensen. "He has been where these guys want to go. They look up to him. He came in as a 5 and left as a 3 (at Utah). He lived and breathed everything coach taught him. He will be a good coach. He has a huge passion for the game and huge knowledge of the game."
Would Jensen like to be a head coach one day, perhaps at Utah? "I have my second thoughts a lot when I see the ups and downs," he said of the profession. "If the right opportunity comes along."