PHOENIX — They each coach for one of the state’s two Nike schools and the mutual respect dates back to their playing careers.
Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle and Arizona’s Sean Miller already made headway in developing a deeper relationship between their basketball programs when they scheduled an intra-state showdown in Tucson last year.
But will the Wildcats of the Pac-12 and Antelopes from the WAC build on it?
If GCU maintains the steady rise since Majerle took over the program, expect the private school from Phoenix and public school from Tucson to consider scheduling future matchups. As it stands, Arizona visiting the smaller gym at Grand Canyon doesn’t seem feasible.
“I’d like him to come check it out, but we’ll see how it goes,” Majerle said of GCU before being interrupted.
“I saw enough,” Miller quipped, half a year after he heard the visiting ‘Lopes fans make noise in McKale Center.
The head coaches held a Wednesday press conference at Talking Stick Resort Arena to promote the Valley of the Sun Shootout.
The Dec. 5 double-header will feature Arizona facing Texas A&M — the second game of a neutral-site series — and Grand Canyon taking on St. John’s.
Two Arizona teams playing in a nearby NBA arena to promote their brands and play in front of backyard recruits makes sense. But as Majerle’s team grows into the yearly top-25 type of program he hopes to build, it could also make sense for the two schools to schedule an annual meeting.
“I think any time we can play somebody in the state, it’s great for us,” Majerle said. “And we went down there and I thought we played really well and showed well — and that’s all we can ask.
“I’m down for a home-and-home if (Miller would) like, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’d like to play them every year at Tucson. Like I said, if they’re up for it, it only makes us better to play that type of competition.”
Miller was more deliberate in his hopes for the two schools. But as he did when he praised the GCU fans after Arizona’s 64-54 win in December, the Wildcats’ coach sees value in welcoming another basketball team to the state.
He also knows that scheduling comes down to balancing tough games with knowing that roster turnover can eventually bite even the most elite of basketball programs.
“You have to have balance. One of the things we go through at Arizona, we lose a lot (of players) every year, and it’s no guarantee next year’s team is going to show up and be good,” Miller said. “Where it goes from here, we’ll continue to talk, especially now that they have the opportunity to be in postseason play.
“We want to play them and the reason … it’s a great game for us. They have a quality team. If you are able to beat them, it’s a meaningful win. If they beat you, I know perception — that’s how it used to be 20 years ago, ‘Well you can’t play a team in-state if you’re in the Pac-12, and Dan’s building his program at Grand Canyon.’ Those days are over.'”
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