Lopes’ athleticism will keep GCU Arena jumping
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
It is hard to imagine Grand Canyon University men’s basketball games being more fun than last season. They won 27 games overall. They won 18 of 20 at home, and coach Dan Majerle will never let go of the idea that they should have won the other two.
But as the Lopes open the 2016-17 season Thursday night with an exhibition game against Adams State at GCU Arena, there looms the very real possibility that they could be even more entertaining.
They have two of the best players in the Western Athletic Conference, Preseason Player of the Year Joshua Braun and seasoned point guard DeWayne Russell, plus swingman Gerard Martin, who started all but one game last season. Their home schedule includes December visits by two perennial powers, Louisville and San Diego State. Their nationally recognized student cheering section, the Havocs, will be even bigger — and probably louder.
On top of all that, they have even more athleticism.
“It’ll be another exciting year,” Majerle said. “I know our guys will play extremely hard. What’s going to be fun about it is having Louisville and San Diego State on our campus, which is huge for a mid-major college. The support is something that makes us successful at home.
“We’ll be in the mix for winning the WAC. You’ll see a lot of athletic guys who play extremely hard and an exciting brand of basketball.”
The most notable athletic guys to join the team are freshmen Oscar Frayer from Oakland, Calif., Fiifi Aidoo from Helsinki, Finland, fifth-year senior Darion Clark, a 6-foot-7 transfer from USC, and junior college transfer Shaq Carr.
“Oscar and Fiifi are both really athletic, exciting players,” Majerle said. “Darion will play extremely hard and rebound the basketball.”
Clark, 6-9 Kerwin Smith (back after redshirting last season) and 6-8 Matt Jackson will be counted on to handle the work under the basket. “Rebounding should be a strength, I would think,” Majerle said.
The Lopes would have been even more formidable up front if not for the season-ending knee injury suffered by 6-11 center Boubacar Toure in a preseason practice. The Lopes also lost redshirt freshman Kenzo Nudo for all of 2016-17 because of a torn Achilles tendon.
But they still have Braun, who led the WAC in field goal percentage (.417) and free throw percentage (.873) last season and made First Team all-conference. Those numbers and his all-around ability made him the logical choice for Preseason Player of the Year.
“What he did last year was a career year for him. He’s got to get better, but the expectations don’t bother him,” Majerle said. “I’m happy for him. He’s earned it with the way he’s played and the way he acts. He’s just what college athletics is all about.”
Unlike last season, when the Lopes played nine of their first 10 games at home and won eight of them, Thursday is their last home appearance until Nov. 25. They face a nine-day, four-game road trip in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, opening the regular season with a Saturday, Nov. 12 visit to Duke, the No. 1 team in the Associated Press preseason rankings.
The trip also includes a Nov. 15 game at Penn State and games in Uncasville, Conn., vs. Albany on Nov. 19 and Marist on Nov. 20. And shortly after returning home, in the space of five days, the Lopes will host No. 13 Louisville on Dec. 3 and No. 30 San Diego State on Dec. 7.
With four top-30 teams among the first 10 opponents, Majerle knows that it will be extremely difficult to match last season’s fast start. But it wasn’t expected last year, either, and look what happened.
“The chemistry is awesome,” Majerle said. “We’ve got really good guys. Everybody loves each other. The new guys, they work hard. They’ve just got to figure out how we do it and what we do, and like with any freshmen, it’s just going to take awhile.”
The GCU women’s basketball team’s first home game is an exhibition against Western State Colorado at 10 a.m. Tuesday, then opens the season against Alcorn State on Nov. 11 at GCU Arena. The women also play at Duke, on Nov. 17, and the GCU Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 25-26 will be folded around a men’s game against Coppin State on Nov. 25.
● Click here to watch the season’s first installment of The Dan Majerle Show.
● New metal detectors have been installed outside the Arena. Here’s a video that explains the new procedures.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.