Dan Majerle is in his fourth season as the head basketball coach at Grand Canyon University,with his steadily rising program posting a 17-9 record with a 6-3 mark in WAC play thus far.
But while Majerle is earning a reputation for being a rising star among the coaching ranks, in Arizona he will always be known as a Phoenix Sun.
Majerle played seven seasons with the team before being traded to Cleveland, but after six seasons away, returned to the Valley for one more campaign, ultimately retiring with the team he entered the NBA with.
Before he landed at GCU, however, Majerle spent time as an assistant coach for the Suns, but his relationship with the team soured in Jan. 2013 after the team parted with head coach Alvin Gentry and tabbed the inexeperienced Lindsey Hunter to replace him.
Majerle, who wanted a crack at the job, left the team and though it was a bit of a dark time for the two sides, things have improved since then.
Majerle said it started a couple months ago when Suns GM Ryan McDonough reached out to him.
“I called him back and we spoke for 30 minutes,” Majerle told Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday. “Really, really nice. Kind of reached out and and said some things to me that meant a lot to me and wanted me to be back in the fold withe Suns, and any time I needed something to let him know.
“I really appreciated it.”
Majerle said he’s talked to McDonough a handful of times since then, adding that he will forever be a Phoenix Sun so it “hurt” when the relationship was fractured a few years ago.
In a lot of ways it was important for the situation to be healed, because no matter where Majerle goes, he will always be linked with the Suns. A member of the team’s Ring of Honor, in some ways he is present whenever the Suns take the floor at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
He is in every way present whenever GCU is on the floor.
GCU has compiled a 76-45 record under Majerle, and has gone to the CIT in each of his first three years roaming the sideline. This current season is the last one in which the Antelopes are not eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament, and with that carrot soon to be dangled in front of the program, Majerle sees this as a very exciting time.
After all, life can only get easier when all postseason options could be on the table.
“Now that we’re able to get in the tournament we’re starting to have conversations with better and better players out of high school,” Majerle said. “Because now that we are eligible they’re interested in GCU, with all the notoriety we’ve gotten, they know that we’re on the map.
“We’re in the homes of high recruits. It only takes one — if we get a high recruit we’re right there.”
Grand Canyon has done a great job of cultivating a home court advantage, with their Havocs being recognized as one of the best student sections in the country. Back in December, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the GCU crowd was tougher than those he has experienced at places like Duke and Kentucky, and the ‘Lopes’ 13-3 record at GCU Arena gives credence to the idea that it is a tough place to visit and win in.
Even with that, however, Majerle has his challenges in trying to build the program, especially with NCAA power Arizona down in Tucson and a resurgent Arizona State University, led by second-year coach Bobby Hurley, just miles away from campus.
Finally being NCAA Tournament eligible, if nothing else, knocks down one barrier, which should make it easier for GCU to compete in the future.
It starts with recruiting.
“Not only with high school kids, but fifth-year guys, guys that you’re going to want to talk to,” Majerle said. “Who want a chance, maybe their last year, to come in and not only prove themselves, but to play in the tournament.”
Majerle said previously, there were prospects who would not even want to talk to him about GCU because they would not be eligible to join the Dance, but now they can get in the door and then try to sell recruits on everything else the university has to offer.
One of those things is Majerle, who brings the credibility of a former NBA All-Star as well as a passion for coaching.
Majerle said one of the things he enjoys most about his gig is the support he has from his assistants as well as the school’s administration, which makes it tough not to have success.
The more success they have, though, and the more people will think Majerle is bound to leave for a bigger, more high-profile job.
“I just hope they don’t fire me; I ain’t going anywhere,” Majerle said. “I love it here. When I was brought here, they said top 25. We’re not there yet — we’re not even close. We’re getting closer, but we’re not close.
“My job is to make this a top 25 school, to get us into the tournament continually, every year, and that’s what I want to do.”
Because of that, Majerle said he he has no reason to leave. There’s also the fact that his kids are in Arizona, as are his restaurants.
“I love it here,” he said. “And like I said, I want to get this to a top 25 program, and we’ve got great facilities. We’re moving into our new practice facility in two weeks; they built us a whole new practice facility.
“The people at Grand Canyon are great, I love being with the other coaches, really good people. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
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