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Excitement surrounds first practice for NCAA Tournament-eligible GCU

GCU senior guard Casey Benson drives on a teammate at the first practice of the season, Friday, September 29, 2017, Phoenix. (Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Excitement surrounded Grand Canyon University’s first men’s basketball practice as a NCAA Tournament-eligible team. The program’s transition to Division I is complete.

“We’ve prepared for this for the last four years,” coach Dan Majerle said Friday. “We’re excited about it. The anticipation is high.”

Majerle’s expectations for this team are no secret. He wants the Antelopes to experience the highest level of the postseason.

“We have a good chance to go to the tournament every year if we do what we are supposed to do,” Majerle said. “It’s going to be extremely hard, but our goal is to be the next Gonzaga, the next Butler as far as being able to dominate a conference.”

GCU has dominated the Western Athletic Conference during the past three years but were never eligible to test its skills in March. Majerle believes the Lopes have the recruiting budget to find the best players to compete at the highest level. Being eligible for the tournament also entices recruits who would not have been interested in GCU in the past.

While Majerle describes the recent FBI discovery as “a dark day for basketball,” he is optimistic about the future of his GCU team this season and recruiting going forward.

“Maybe that evens the playing field a little bit for everybody,” Majerle said. “But in the long run, I’m just here to get the best out of my kids that I can and make them the best players and do what I can.”

Coming off a 22-9 season a year ago, Majerle seems to get the best out of his players. The ‘Lopes have also added experience and talent in senior guard Casey Benson, who transferred to GCU from Final Four finalist Oregon.

Benson is a local talent out of Corona Del Sol who’s come home to finish his college career in front of family and friends.

“It’s fun, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Benson said.  “It’s going to be special to share it with them.”

As for transferring to a new team, Benson believes the team has “a ton of talent, a lot of great pieces that compliment each other.”

Benson’s star quality adds to an already deep roster, leading Majerle to his biggest problem of the season so far: dividing up play time for guys who deserve it.

“I’ve got probably 11 guys right now vying for play time,” Majerle said. “I’m not a coach that likes playing 11 guys. It usually works itself out in a wash.”

While Majerle works out playing time, the university prepares for the season to kickoff on Friday at the Midnight Madness event at GCU Arena, an event so big that attending is an experience. GCU fans were named the craziest fans in college by USA Today.

“We’ll have 7,400 students here screaming. It’s a big party and I can’t wait,” Majerle said. “I know our guys are excited about it.”

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