EJ Liddell and Keith Randolph Jr. were dominant in the post all season on their way to a second-straight state championship, and it’s thanks to Roger Mueller.
Mueller, 73, taught Liddell and Randolph their signature move — the up-and-under.
“I did it once tonight and it worked very well,” Liddell said, after turning in a 24-point, 10-rebound and 6-assist performance. “When I didn’t do the up-and-under, he taught me to turn middle and look to pass, and that’s what I did because when I was double-teamed I passed to my open teammates.”
In separate conversations, Liddell and Randolph agreed again that the bigs-and-littles drills are most memorable.
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“We were doing bigs-and-littles, and he threw the ball almost 50 feet away from me and he tells me I have to go get it because (the pass is) not going to come straight to me every time,” Randolph recalled of his favorite Mueller memory.
When Joe Muniz accepted the Belleville West job 15 years ago, Mueller was his first phone call. The two served as assistants together in Bill Schmidt’s final season as head coach.
“(Mueller) has taught me more about basketball and about life than anyone,” Muniz said. “He’s always positive, he’s always talking about the great things, he’s always doing the little things for us and picking us up. The amount of energy he brings to our program as a volunteer is just unbelievable.”
Players love Mueller, perhaps because of the brownies his wife, Betty, makes after each win, but also because he demands more out of everybody.
“He’s the most fundamental person I know,” Liddell said. “He points out every little mistake … and practices are always very hard with him. He doesn’t let us be perfect because we always have flaws. If you mess up anything, he will get on you about it. I know it’s all love from Coach Mueller. I’ve known him for a long time and he really improved my game and my footwork and my touch around the rim.”
Put simply, fundamentals win basketball games according to Mueller, who led the Maroons to a 221-173 record with six regional titles and one sectional crown in 15 years as head coach from 1973-88. In all, he has coached at West for 42 years.
He was very proud of this year’s post players.
“They learned to keep the ball off the floor, turn to the inside, shot fake around the basket,” he said. “They’ve been good students and I think it’s paid off for them.”
Mueller never imagined he’d be a two-time state champion, but he is now.
“He’s one of the smartest men I know,” Muniz said. “He really does a great job of finding ways to interact with the kids, and the kids love him. The kids adore him in a way because he gets excited and they get excited. He just knows how to get down to their level.”