Basketball players, Havocs have uncommon bond
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the December issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
The most public example of Grand Canyon University’s unique campus culture is played out at men’s basketball games. But there’s a lot more to the interaction between the Havocs and the players than meets the eye (and ear, for that matter).
It’s as if they’re teammates. As the players line up and circle the Arena floor after a game to shake hands with fans, especially members of GCU’s nationally renowned cheering section, it’s an excellent example of the good that comes from two groups of students uniting for a common cause. They act like friends because, well, they are.
“It’s really cool because we get to see them around campus,” senior guard DeWayne Russell said. “They become more than just the student section. We know a lot of them. It’s more like a friendship between us.”
The president of the Havocs, Steve Hunsaker, said, “There’s a mutual respect between the basketball players and the diehard fans, and I don’t mean just the leaders. You’ll see DeWayne and these guys on Lopes Way and you’ll get high-fives from everybody.”
Friends and roommates
Hunsaker has taken the high-fives one step further: He rooms with three players — Gerard Martin and Matt Jackson, both from Australia, and Kenzo Nudo, who’s of Mexican and Italian descent. To commemorate their heritage, they have four flags, including the Stars and Stripes, in the living room of their unit in the new Roadrunner Apartments.
“It’s like the United Nations in there,” Hunsaker said.
Except that they’re a lot more united. Martin, who spends about 11 months a year on campus, said he was taken by the GCU spirit as soon as he saw it during the recruiting process.
“The students here are unbelievable,” he said. “That’s what I tell everyone back home and all my friends: ‘You don’t understand until you come here and you talk to the kids.’
“The students here are unbelievable. That’s what I tell everyone back home and all my friends: ‘You don’t understand until you come here and you talk to the kids.’”
“You see the passion, and not just at basketball games. At anything. Whether it’s Chapel or it’s Mr. GCU, all the kids go nuts and they just love the school. Everyone’s so loving — that’s one thing that makes it easy to move over here and live here.”
The cultural exchange ranges from vegemite sandwiches (“Actually pretty good,” Hunsaker said) to good old-fashioned kidding. “If you’re friends with an Aussie, they just rip you apart,” he said. “That’s, like, friendship. You’ve got to have thick skin. But they’re the happiest, nicest people.”
“We bully him a little bit,” Martin admitted. “He’s smaller than us.”
Along for the ride
The living arrangement has made Hunsaker appreciate the grind that student-athletes face daily, and they, in turn, are thankful for something Hunsaker has that they don’t — a car. Well, a car more or less. Mostly less.
Hunsaker calls it his “1999 Ford Exploder,” with a “d.” Hey, it’s transportation when they want to go out to eat on Sundays.
“This thing makes so many weird noises, has three doors that don’t open and doesn’t have a back window,” Hunsaker said. “But they don’t have any other options.”
Noise is a constant at GCU Arena as well during basketball games. This season, the Havocs will loudly greet the two most highprofile teams ever to visit — Louisville on Saturday and San Diego State on Wednesday — and coach Dan Majerle can’t wait.
Majerle knows all about noisy arenas. He played in some great ones for the Phoenix Suns, including Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, aka the “Madhouse on McDowell.”
“It was one of those old-style buildings where the acoustics were unbelievable,” he said. “For an NBA arena, they were right on top of you.
“This is close. Madhouse, I don’t know how many it sat, maybe 15,000. For 7,200, this gets just as loud. The student section, obviously, is more rowdy, more energetic as far as the hopping around. The stuff they do before the game, right before we tip off, that always fires me up. That gets me ready to roll.”
Atmosphere made it clear
It’s also a recruiting tool. Martin knew he had found the right place the first time he visited. “That’s a big part of why I came here,” he said. “Obviously, it was Coach Majerle, too, but I wanted to play somewhere where it’s a crazy atmosphere.
“Back home, you see college atmospheres like Ohio State and Duke on ESPN, and that’s what I think of when I think about college basketball. When I came and saw this crowd, I couldn’t say no.”
It makes it only natural to spread the post-game love with those handshakes and high-fives and slapped palms. It has become a winning tradition.
“To be able to go around and see them face to face, give them a high-five and thank them personally is definitely something that’s unique,” Martin said. “It’s great for us basketball players to meet the fans and relate with them because they’re students just like us.”
This is far more than just oral support. This type of interaction could only happen at a place like GCU, where the culture brings out the best in people … and the people bring out the best in the culture.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or email@example.com.