Duke Brennan uses inspiration from family and high motor to propel GCU basketball

Mar 9, 2024, 6:00 AM

Grand Canyon forward Duke Brennan...

Grand Canyon Antelopes forward Duke Brennan #24 during the first half of a men's basketball game between the Portland Pilots and the Grand Canyon University Lopes at the Jerry Colangelo Classic on December 16, 2023 at Footprint Center in Phoenix AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Ahead of Grand Canyon basketball’s 2024 WAC Tournament that begins for the Antelopes next Friday, GCU forward Duke Brennan found himself researching his second cousin, Colt Brennan.

In 2007, the Hawaii quarterback finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and won the 2007 WAC Championship. He is tied for fifth in career passing touchdowns with 131.

Colt Brennan died on May 11, 2021, after he was hospitalized due to a drug overdose. His father told ESPN that the former college quarterback had attempted to check into a detox program the same day he ingested something laced with fentanyl.

Colt’s legacy has left a lasting impact on Duke.

“We love him. He was a big part of our family,” Duke said. “I tell stories about him to my teammates all the time because he was an amazing football player.”

During Duke’s research, the GCU forward found a picture of Colt hoisting the 2007 WAC Championship trophy with his teammates on the cover page of “The Honolulu Advertiser,” with the words “WAC CHAMPS” bolded in yellow across it.

He still remembers when Colt used to always wrestle with him on the beach when he was a kid.

“He made me tougher,” Duke said. “He’s a person I looked up to when I played sports. I want to win a WAC Championship just like he did, and we can share that.”

GCU basketball finds itself in a prime position to do so.

The Antelopes boast a 26-4 record heading into their final regular season game Saturday with a 16-3 mark in conference play. Brennan, who transferred from Arizona State after his freshman season, has been a key part of that.

The 6-foot-10-inch sophomore has started all 30 games for GCU this season, averaging 6.9 points and seven rebounds per game. He’s one of two players on the team who has started every game.

“He’s been really important for our team this year,” GCU head coach Bryce Drew said. “He rebounds really well. He brings a different level of physicality to the paint, and we love his desire to get better and to win.”

Duke Brennan’s toughness and physicality caught Drew’s attention the first time he saw him play, back when Brennan was playing center at Hillcrest Prep in the Phoenix area.

Hillcrest has been the starting point for multiple NBA big men, such as Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III.

Brennan has fond memories of playing against players who are currently in the NBA, names such as Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic and Jalen Duren from the Detroit Pistons.

“The best basketball player I ever played against was Paolo Banchero. He was the rookie of the year last season in the NBA, and he also went one-and-done at Duke,” Brennan said.

Duke, the player, caught the attention of many different Division 1 schools across the country. He had 21 offers out of high school and was nationally ranked the No. 34 center on in 2022.

He eventually committed to Arizona State and played in 35 games his freshman year, averaging nine minutes per game and serving as a spark plug off the bench for Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils.

However, he entered the transfer portal after his freshman season on Apr. 14, 2023, and committed to play for Drew at GCU less than a week later.

“What stood out to me was the love the coaching staff had for me, what they thought I could do and what they thought we could do as a program,” Brennan said. “We set our goals back then, and now, you know, our goals are arising now. They’re right in front of us, and we’ve talked about it since I moved from ASU.”

Duke and Colt are on a long list of Brennans who have made an impact in collegiate sports.

Duke’s father, Bill, played college football at Cal State Fullerton from 1986-1989, where he was a tight end. His grandfather, also named Bill, played football at Santa Clara. Other cousins have played basketball, football and volleyball collegiately.

His cousin, Brent Brennan, is the new coach at the University of Arizona.

The two have texted each other often since Brent took the job, mostly going back and forth about how they’re so proud of one another.

“We used to see each other every summer when I was younger. We’re really tight. He just texted me the other day. I texted him back, and hopefully, I will get down to Tucson soon,” Duke said.

Duke expressed that despite being in a family full of athletes, he still had to find his own competitive drive when he moved to Arizona a year before high school, after growing up in Oregon.

Brennan came to the conclusion that sports were the way he wanted to make friends and build relationships in his community.

It took him some time to find his niche and decide what sport he wanted to pursue professionally as he played almost every sport under the sun.

In fact, Brennan competed in the men’s skeet shooting competition at the 2017 National Junior Olympic Championships.

“I was actually super good at it,” Brennan said. “My dad and I always loved shooting shotguns when I was a kid. I played for a team, and I eventually qualified for the Junior Olympics and shot in Colorado Springs. It’s a little fun fact about me.”

However, after already growing to 6 feet tall in seventh grade, it was apparent that Duke was made to play on the basketball court and the results of sticking to hoops have shown.

Besides his love for basketball and the simple fact that he is a freak athlete, Brennan’s personality stands out. That was one of Drew’s favorite traits of Brennan and one of the core reasons why Drew wanted Brennan to play at GCU.

“He has a happiness that makes other people around him comfortable, and it’s just enjoyable to be with him,” Drew said.

GCU is the frontrunner for this year’s WAC title, and winning the conference tournament would give the Antelopes their third bid in four years to the NCAA Tournament. It would be Brennan’s second straight appearance at the big dance.

With the WAC Championship on the horizon and lots of glory still up for grabs, Brennan hopes to be the second member of his family to win the WAC. But even if he doesn’t, he’s already left a lasting impact on his family for years to come, just as Colt did for him.

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