'Thunder Dan' Meets Thunder: Majerle New GCU Hoops Coach

Story by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

Dan Majerle, one of the most popular players ever to wear a uniform for the Phoenix Suns, was introduced Monday as the new head coach for men's basketball at Grand Canyon University to a thunderous standing ovation at GCU Arena.

And the 47-year-old coach, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, arrived with a deal to offer purple-clad fans of the Antelopes: a 20 percent discount the same day at any one of his four namesake restaurants in metro Phoenix.

"Apparently my restaurant's going to be pretty busy, so I probably need to get down there and flip some burgers," Majerle joked after being introduced by Keith Baker, GCU's director of athletics, to a crowd of about 1,000 -- most of them GCU employees, as students are on spring break this week.

Brian Mueller, GCU's president and chief executive officer, and Jerry Colangelo, retained by Mueller as a special assistant during the University's transition to NCAA Division I, also addressed the crowd before Majerle met the media for interviews in the Arena's Antelope Reception Center.

The occasion marked a harmonic convergence of sorts. Twenty-five years ago, GCU won the last of three NAIA national basketball championships and the Suns made Majerle their No. 1 draft choice out of Central Michigan University.  And 20 years ago, a Colangelo-owned Suns team that included Majerle (and was coached by former GCU Coach Paul Westphal) lost in a memorable NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

"I love Phoenix and the community, and it's a dream come true to be named as coach at Grand Canyon," said Majerle, until recently an assistant coach for the Suns. "This is a growing university, steeped in tradition.

"I'm going to entrench myself in this place. This is my new family. I'll leave you with this, and I'll be doing it for a long time: 'Lopes Up, baby!"

After it became clear last Friday afternoon that Russ Pennell would not return as coach, public speculation and media reports centered on Majerle, who acknowledged that he has wanted a head-coaching opportunity for some time.

In interviews Monday with the media, Majerle described the GCU position as "a perfect situation" and candidly addressed his lack of head coaching experience.

"I know I can coach," he said. "I haven't recruited (players), but I'll surround myself with a staff that's like-minded as far as work ethic and knowing what needs to get done. I have to do a good job of hiring guys who know the ropes."

Colangelo said "the writing was on the wall, change was in the air" for the direction of GCU's program. He said Majerle's ability to communicate, motivate and be flexible made him the only one seriously considered for the position.

"You get the right young men who want to play, and they'll want to play for him," Colangelo said. "He has all the right qualifications as a leader."

Majerle said he "played only one way, and that was hard," adding that his GCU teams would feature an aggressive style that fans would appreciate and enjoy. He met after his round of media interviews with Antelope players who are eligible to return for 2013-14, which will be GCU's first season in the reconfigured Western Athletic Conference.

"It will take a little bit of time," Majerle told the Arena audience,  referring to the transition from Division II. "We can't do it with just players and coaches. We need faculty, staff and students, too."

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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