While the Phoenix Suns have been garnering local and national headlines for being one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season, there’s another Valley basketball team that has shocked its fair share of people, too.
In their first year as a Division I program, the Grand Canyon Antelopes have been one of the big surprises of the Western Athletic Conference. The ‘Lopes are currently 12-11 and tied for second place in conference play at 7-3 with six games remaining.
One of the amazing things about that record is that it’s been reached after GCU’s top player, Demetrius Walker, was dismissed from the squad.
“We had an unfortunate incident halfway through the year, I had to kick off my best player and my starting point guard,” first-year head coach Dan Majerle told Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “Two guys I really liked, but they weren’t getting it done and they weren’t doing the right things.
“It was a really tough decision, because at the time, we had five scholarship players and some walk-ons.”
Walker had averaged nearly 17 points per contest in GCU’s first nine games and point guard Jeff Lowery had played in all 31 games for the ‘Lopes a season ago.
“I was going into games with absolutely no bench, just walk-on guys, so it was a tough decision,” Majerle said. “I told our team, ‘it’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about Grand Canyon University and it’s about this program for years to come and you guys are the building block for what we’re doing.’
“When we’re in the NCAA Tournament four years from now, you guys can look back on this and say you were part of this and you built this on your hard work and your values and what you were about and how you represented GCU.”
The message has been received loud and clear by the players still on the roster. Since the dismissals of Walker and Lowery, GCU has gone 7-5 under Majerle, who has a message for potential fans in the Valley.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “You’ll love our kids and how hard they play. If you haven’t been on campus, check it out — it’s a hidden gem at 35th Avenue and Camelback.
“To go in that arena with our sound system and our 80-student pep band with the boards and the things it’s got going on — and then just watch our kids play. We will play extremely hard, we play a great style of basketball. Next year, we’re going to have some really good teams in for some home games. I promise you, if you come to a GCU game, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll be back.”