Lopes look to keep growing as basketball-centered school
The Grand Canyon University Antelopes basketball team impressed the naysayers last season. Finishing third in the Western Athletic Conference, the Lopes looked like they belonged in the team’s first year in Division I play.
Led by former Phoenix Suns star Dan Majerle, the team drew impressive home crowds throughout the season, proving that GCU is worthy to be a basketball school in the public eye.
The Arena is also a big draw for fans and visitors. A team on the rise, and a first class venue, pushed GCU to expand its already new venue. Scheduled for completion in September, seating will grow from around 5,000 to about 7,000. The US Airways-inspired structure seems to represent the freshness and excitement around the campus.
This first season of Division I play brought about a lot of interest from local and national stars as well. Appearances from Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic, play-by-play commentator Al McCoy, as well as a variety of Christian musical artists made game time big time.
The buzz surrounding the program has opened many doors for the school to market their name. With the backing of basketball legend Jerry Colangelo, GCU has gained an incredible amount of notoriety in the basketball world. In fact, this past winter, GCU held the Spalding Hoop Hall West high school tournament games in the Arena.
Along with the ribbon cutting on the new and improved stadium, the newly announced schedule will bring new fans through the turnstiles. Home games coming against New Mexico, Tulsa, and Harvard, coach Majerle’s team will be tested against the best talented opposition to walk on to the west Phoenix campus.
At home the Lopes hope to turn the tables on Tulsa who they played in Oklahoma last season and lost 66-65 in the final minutes. Remove a few controversial calls and the Lopes could have walked away victorious.
Harvard is likely the biggest test on the schedule.. The Crimson defeated Yale to become Ivy League champions this year. Following that win, 12th seeded Harvard proceeded to knock-off Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament.
Road games aren’t any easier for the Lopes. While the schedule hasn’t been announced, rumors are circulating amongst the program that road games include powerhouses Kentucky and Indiana.
While no one expects the Lopes to run with either of those iconic teams, the GCU name will still reach ESPN programming through these games, which can only help with D1 quality recruiting. Don’t be too quick to count out the lopes. After all, no one predicted the team to finish so well in the WAC conference. Granted, I understand the Kentucky freshman just played in the national championship game. However, with the publicity surrounding a game like that, it’ll be hard to see the game-no matter the result-as a negative.
As for the team next year, well, no one is entirely sure. The loss of 6’9 senior center Killian Larson and senior Blake Davis will definitely be a sharp blow to the team next season. The offseason will be Thunder Dan’s first big test as a recruiter.
GCU will miss Larson’s nationally ranked defensive rebounding. GCU will need to address the need for a big man, especially if they match up with Kentucky’s young guns like Julius Randle. That is, if Randle decides to stay in college or declare for the NBA draft.
While it will be rough for the Lopes to fill the holes left by Larson and the great shooter Davis, GCU’s returning players have gelled extremely well.
Junior forward Daniel Alexander and junior guard Jerome Garrison return as two of the team’s best scorers.
Alexander’s 6’9 height allows him to block shots and dunk the basketball with graceful ease. When prevented from the lane, Alexander has arguably one of the prettiest three point shots in the WAC. When you see this kid play every night, it is hard not to appreciate the effort and tenacity.
Garrison has the ability to find buckets in the most critical of times. Both he and Alexander are often targeted in the final minutes of close games. Their senior leadership will be needed to steer the younger players through the challenging schedule. Garrison’s loose ball play will be needed to spark the team and the home court crowd.
Majerle and his staff are well aware that these next few years leading up to NCAA tournament eligibility will be full of both thrill and growing pains. The Valley is waiting to see how he’ll craft this emerging program.
If there is one thing people should expect, both supporters and critics of the school, it is that Jerry Colangelo and GCU are making this basketball program into something special. There is an air of confidence on campus that believes this team will be poised and tournament ready in three years.
On a campus bursting with growth and new attention, Lopes basketball looks to bring national attention to this emerging campus.