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"I'm very happy the game is over," said Ray when it was. "I was kind of hoping, at the end, that the score would get a little closer." Quite an admission from a man who says he walks the streets, unable to sleep, after losses. Tom himself barely slept the night after the game, but the 25-point final margin notwithstanding, he knew his father had done him and his fledgling program a big favor. Illinois at Chicago Circle, which is named after the confluence of expressways around its concrete campus, at least had found someone to give it a lift onto the off-ramp from obscurity.
The UICC basketball team has all the Division I trappings—the scholarships, the schedule and, soon, the arena—everything, that is, except a nickname. The 16-year-old school once called its teams the Chikas, after an Indian tribe thought to have inhabited the shores of Lake Michigan. When it turned out that the tribe may never have existed and that Chikas was pronounced just like chicas, Spanish slang for young women, the school, which has a goodly number of Hispanic students, dropped the name. So now its teams are simply known as the Chicago Circle.
"What's our mascot going to do," asks 7'2" Center Dave Williams. "Go out on the court and run around in circles?" The administration is searching for a name and presumably isn't interested in the irreverent (the Chicago Seven), cutesy (the Chi-lini) or witty (the Vicious Circle, which the pep club calls itself). It prefers, instead, something "marketable."
Locally, at least, UICC is beginning to make a name for itself without a nickname. The credit goes to Tom's top recruiter, Willie Little. He joined the Circle staff in 1980 from nearby Manley High, where he had won a state title that year, and Chicago's fertile high school gyms are his bailiwick. Among his products at Manley was 6'10" Purdue sophomore Russell Cross, who almost decided to enroll at UICC at the last minute. Two weeks ago, Little and Meyer got an oral commitment from 6'9" Andre Moore of Carver High the day after he'd visited Ray Meyer and his 32-year-old recruiter son, Joey, Ray's heir designate at DePaul.
The three Meyer boys—the youngest is Bob, a/k/a Binky, who was one of the TV announcers for the DePaul-UICC game—grew up with a man who admits he was more a coach than a father. Like everyone else in the family, they called him Coach.
Joey was always the talented one, shy and introverted but a local high school star. No one is surprised that he is eighth on the DePaul alltime scoring list. Tom, on the other hand, had his high school career retarded by rheumatic fever, but he worked diligently with weights and eventually found a role as a shooter on his father's teams in the mid-'60s. He began coaching while in college—at St. Benedict's High during his senior year—and had winning records at two other Chicago-area high schools before accepting the UICC job in 1977. Tom goes through every conditioning program he prepares for his players; two of them suffered heat exhaustion doing a preseason running drill he'd tested himself. It's not uncommon for Tom's wife, Mary, to retrieve him from some byway where he has cramped up while running.
"Coach is portrayed as a mild-mannered person," says Tom, "but if you were sick, you had to hide. He understood pneumonia, but there was no such thing as a cold. Coach himself never admits to pain, never admits to feelings. We were religious because Coach was religious, and the things we did we were expected to do. If you had problems—with a girl friend, say, or with finding the money for a car—Mom took care of that. I saw that movie The Great Santini and had to laugh. Coach ran things like that."
On the evening Coach had been more than just a coach, Tom knew exactly what he wanted to tell him. He met Ray more than halfway up the sideline after the final buzzer had sounded and said, "Thanks for playing me, Dad."