It was a year of firsts for the Grand Canyon University men’s basketball team.
The program played in its first year of Division I eligibility and head coach Dan Majerle led the team to a postseason tournament in his first year on the job.
“Overall our season was fantastic, a lot better than I imagined or anyone else imagined,” Majerle told Burns and Gambo of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I basically took over the team that they had last year, which was Division II players. We worked hard from the beginning, and our goal at the beginning of the year was to get better every game, but come WAC time to be playing our best basketball. I saw it right about the first or second game in the WAC, something clicked in our guys. I saw it, because we worked so hard and all of a sudden they bought into and they started really getting after it. We won two in a row at home, then two on the road and after that four-game win streak our guys started to believe. So to finish 10-6 in the WAC was beautiful.”
GCU finished 15-14 in the regular season, earning a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, before losing in the first round to Pacific by two points Wednesday. The team joins the University of Nebraska-Omaha as the only two schools to play in the tournament during a transition year.
As part of the school’s transition to the Division I ranks, the Antelopes are not eligible for conference championships or the NCAA Tournament until the 2017-18 season.
“It was big we were in the CIT this year because at the beginning of the year when we were going out recruiting, everybody was saying, ‘Well you can’t play in a postseason.’ Well we played in a postseason in our first year,” Majerle said. “Now, it’s not the NIT or the NCAA Tournament obviously, but it is a postseason tournament, and that was huge for us. We had to be over .500 to do that, so to do that was huge, but it does kill me to do that well in the WAC and not be able to participate in the conference tournament and have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. In time, we’ll be there, and when that time comes we’ll be good.”
The Antelopes have been to the NCAA Tournament before on 10 different occasions, most recently in 2012 and 2013, but as a Division II team. They hope to return to the big dance, and Majerle has scheduled tough opponents for his team next season in Kentucky, Indiana, Harvard, Tulsa and New Mexico to help prepare for the higher level of play.
“We have 20 home games next year which is unheard of,” Majerle said. “To have 20 home games and the type of competition coming in and the type of competition we’re playing on the road, it’s going to be great year and we’re going to continue to get better.”