When Grand Canyon University officially accepted the Western Athletic Conference’s invitation back in November 2012, it became apparent at least from a men’s basketball prospective that the school had the ingredients to compete on a Division I stage.
GCU has 6,500 students on its ground-based campus, a 5,000-seat basketball arena and a team (20-5 in 2012-13) worthy of fan support.
But most importantly, as the Antelopes get set to join the WAC, they do so with a competent head coach in Russ Pennell.
Pennell has plenty of Division I experience having previously served as the interim coach at UA (2008-09) and as an assistant coach at Arizona State, Mississippi and Oklahoma State.
In three-plus seasons at GCU, Pennell has done wonders with the Antelopes (69-41 record and one NCAA tournament appearance).
But, how did the GCU athletic program snag a veteran coach like Pennell?
“It was a very unique situation (back in 2009 when we hired Pennell),” GCU athletic director Keith Baker told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug & Wolf Friday. “The opportunity just came up in that Russ had taken over as the interim head coach at the University of Arizona. And, it became apparent he wasn’t going to get to stay there.
“Our executive leadership is very, very involved, especially in our high-profile sports, and they saw that as an opportunity to say ‘This is a great mix’.
Baker said that since 2009, Pennell has certainly lived up to the university’s expectations of what he’d bring to the basketball program.
“In the 30 years that I’ve been at Grand Canyon University, he probably backs up the walk and the talk as well as anyone we’ve ever had there,” said Baker. “Russ has come in and developed a program, got us to the NCAA tournament last year, got their 20th win of the season last night and trying to make a late run into the NCAA tournament. That’s a very exciting thing for us.”
While GCU’s Division II membership comes to a conclusion this summer, the school’s application for full Division I eligibility is due in June. GCU can’t officially compete in the WAC until the application is approved.