Cesmat – Gonzaga Model Coming to Life at GCU

Grand Canyon head coach Bryce Drew directs his team during the first half of a first round NCAA college basketball tournament game Saturday, March 20, 2021, at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

They ran into the best player and perhaps the best team. Grand Canyon University has no reason to hang its heads after a one-and-done in Indianapolis. Winning their conference and putting up a good fight against a squad as talented as Iowa is more than enough progress under Bryce Drew in his first season.

The program’s national attention on the court was only overshadowed by the student section that traveled to Saturday’s game. The TBS broadcast crew couldn’t get enough of the Havocs. Showing the students decked out in purple, dancing in unison was the perfect storyline for a program that was in the Big Dance for the first time.

TBS went to shots of the fans several times. You could tell it was eye candy for the broadcast crew and producers. I am sure that the GCU powers will be able to capitalize on the attention during the offseason. Flying in two planes of students proved to be more than a smart move by the school.  

They have the right facility, the right coach, the right student section, and the administration’s support. There’s no football team at GCU. This is THE main sport/revenue generator. The goal of being a program like Gonzaga has sounded unrealistic to some (not me), but if you look at the early history of the Zags, it’s similar to where GCU is today.

Gonzaga reached the NIT in 1997. 1998, they made their first appearance in March Madness by winning the West Coast Conference Tourney and haven’t looked back since.

Fans at Arizona and Arizona State might want to take a look at what’s going on over on Camelback Road on the west side of I-17 a bit more serious, or perhaps one day they’ll be in the same boat as Washington and Washington State when it comes to basketball. 

A couple of thoughts on the administration. I was first introduced to Grand Canyon President Brian Mueller in 2009 by then-head coach Russ Pennell. Mueller walked me around campus and spoke about the vision of where he wanted the basketball program to go. Everything he said in 2009 has come to fruition. Jerry Colangelo has moved mountains to assist, but Mueller has been on campus day after day pushing forward.

Previous coaches Russ Pennell and Dan Majerle should be credited for laying some of the groundwork. It’s not easy to coach a team playing in the CTI and CBI basketball postseason tournaments. It’s not easy being the coach playing in Antelope Gym in front of a few hundred fans.

It’s not a cakewalk recruiting to a school in the WAC in this day and age of infatuation with Power 5.  In my opinion, both Pennell and Majerle were fine hires in the building stage, but Drew was the right coach to get to the next level. 

So can GCU sustain the success?  Did you know that Abilene Christian was added to the Western Athletic Conference in January? Did you see what they did to Texas on Saturday night? Like Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, the WAC will get one team in each year.

The only way an at-large will even have a chance is by playing (and winning) a murderous non-conference schedule. That falls back on Colangelo’s deep basketball connections to open doors against blue-bloods.

How many will want to come to GCU and take on that homecourt advantage that the Havoc’s have created is another question? I’m sure the TV executives would want a piece of that pie…