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Grand Canyon University on doorstep of Division I debut

PHOENIX — The dress rehearsal is over.

The curtain drops this week on the debut of Grand Canyon University’s foray into Division I basketball plus Dan Majerle’s head coaching career.

“I’m more concerned about how we play and what we do and how we guard and if we run our system than I am about those guys,” the former Phoenix Suns player and assistant said of opening games against a pair of West Coast Conference teams in the USD Classic Tournament.

GCU, now an official member of the Western Athletic Conference, will play Loyola Marymount Friday and host San Diego Saturday.

Majerle got a good look at his new team last Friday in an exhibition game against UC San Diego.

The Antelopes lost 71-63 in front of a sellout crowd of 4,410 at GCU Arena.

“We made too many mistakes, but the guys played hard. They just got to get better,” Majerle said.

GCU fought back from an early deficit to take a four-point lead in the second half. But then with the score tied 63-63 and 1:58 left, UC San Diego closed the game on an 8-0 run.

“To be honest, we knew it was going to be a process. It’s going to take a while to get to where we want to be,” Majerle said.

As big a hill as GCU is about to climb this season in the WAC — the team was picked to finish eighth by the coaches and ninth by the media — slow progress is being made.

“We feel real good. We feel real encouraged that we’re getting better,” said former Phoenix St. Mary’s High forward Blake Davis, who had a team-high eight rebounds in the exhibition loss. “The exhibition was good. We fought harder than I think we’ve ever fought in a game. I’ve been here for three years. That’s what was so encouraging. The motivation. The drive. The passion. Now all we need to do is fix the little things.

“Since we have the passion it won’t be hard to change that stuff because you know that we want to change it. You don’t have that fire without having the desire to be great. We have that desire so we’re going to do the things that we need to do.”

Still, it is a giant leap from Division II, where GCU successfully competed and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, going 42-16.

“My expectations are for our guys to play hard and do what we do in practice and get better every game. I’m not going to put a number on wins and losses,” Majerle said. “I think it’s going to be a year that’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be a year that’s going to be tough for our guys and for the coaching staff. It is a rebuilding and it is a process.”

Following the two games this weekend, GCU will hold its home opener Nov. 16 against Western New Mexico.