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Transfers make up more than half of GCU basketball’s roster

Grand Canyon University guards Mikey Dixon (left) and Isiah Brown talk during practice at the GCU basketball practice facility. (Photo by Travis Whittaker/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX With a rising basketball program on the campus of Grand Canyon University, head coach Dan Majerle is always looking for ways to bolster his squad.

Seven of the 13 players on the 2019-2020 roster transferred into the program, and Majerle believes signing transfers helps his team stay competitive while younger players develop.

“If you get too many young kids, you’re not going to be successful until they develop,” Majerle said. “You always want some transfers. You just kind of want to mix and match depending on what you have and what your needs are.”

When college coaches commit to recruiting a student-athlete, the relationship built can lead to big things down the road, even if it means the players initially end up at a different school on signing day.

Although GCU was the first to offer Carlos Johnson a scholarship out of high school, the 6-foot-4 guard chose to sign with Washington. He played two seasons for the Huskies before moving back to Arizona, where he grew up and played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Shadow Mountain High.

“We were familiar with him; he was familiar with us,” Majerle said. “Along with all of these other kids, that’s why you have great relationships with kids because you never know if it’s gonna work at another place.”

When Johnson decided to leave Washington, he remembered the connection he and Majerle built during the recruitment phase.

“It wasn’t that big of a decision for me because I knew I wanted to come somewhere I was familiar with, somewhere I played at. I played at Shadow Mountain so coming to GCU was like the perfect spot for me,” Johnson said.

Johnson is not the only player on GCU’s roster who originally started a career with one of college basketball’s more prestigious programs. 

Center Louis Bangai was a walk-on at UNLV, guard Mikey Dixon transferred from St. John’s University and guard Isiah Brown came from the University of Northwestern. All three are redshirt juniors with GCU.

“I think this is a good area for transfers,” Majerle said. “This is a rising Division I school that guys who went to Power Five conferences that didn’t work out for whatever reasons can go down a level and show what they can do.”

Dixon, a 6-foot-2 guard, is originally from New Castle, Del., and played a season at Quinnipiac and then St. John’s before transferring to GCU mid-season last year.

“It’s been good,” Dixon said. “I’ve been getting adjusted to it. I started playing second semester. I’ve got thrown in and I’m just trying to make an impact anywhere I can. We as a team have been learning on the fly. Everybody is getting to know each other but we have been doing it on the fly.” 

Through his first 10 games of this season, Dixon has averaged 12.9 points in 31.2 minutes per game.

“Mikey has been good,” Majerle said. “A guy who’s been at different places, had some success. Was able to come here for a year and sit out and get used to the program.” 

When Dixon toured GCU, he instantly felt the vibe of the campus. 

“When I came out here on a visit, I seen how everybody was into basketball and everyone showed support to the program,” Dixon said. “I liked that. Coach Majerle was a big influence. He’s got a lot of knowledge. I just felt like it was the right place for me to finish my career.”

When Bangai was a walk-on at UNLV, the transition of the new coaching hire wasn’t easy on him. 

“The new coach (T.J. Otzelberger) came in and he already had plans of how to make his team and I wasn’t a part of it,” Bangai said. “I decided by myself that it’s better for me to leave and find a place where I can play and improve my basketball.”

For Bangai and GCU, it was a perfect fit on both ends. 

“We needed a big guy. He’s been working hard. Hasn’t been on the floor much but he was just a walk-on at UNLV,” Majerle said. 

Added Bangai: “Being a walk-on, it wasn’t easy at UNLV but getting here at GCU being on a scholarship it’s just a blessing. I’m thankful for GCU to give me this chance and I’m trying to help in any way.” 

Bangai is originally from Yaounde, Cameroon, but had been in the U.S. for four years prior to starting his collegiate basketball career in California and Pennsylvania.

With the transition from a Power Five conference like the SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten and Big 12, Majerle said he thinks the WAC should be respected more than it is. 

“College basketball is really hard, our conference is very competitive. The games we play are competitive and the guys we have are very good. One of the challenges for a lot of these guys when they transfer from Power Five conferences, they think they will come here and it’s gonna be easy,” Majerle said. “That’s never the case.”

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