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What GCU Can Learn

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Grand Canyon University.
Grand Canyon University’s Men’s Basketball Program Can Learn A Lot From Florida Gulf Coast University, The First No. 15 Seed To Reach The Sweet 16


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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

March 26, 2013 — The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles are making an unprecedented run in 2013 NCAA Tournament. They are the storybook Cinderella: second-year of eligibility and in the Sweet 16

One might wonder what FGCU’s run has to do with Grand Canyon University. The answer is that it shows what might be possible at the private Christian University and under the tutelage of new head coach Dan Majerle. GCU already has an arena worthy of a D-I powerhouse, but it is going to take a lot more than that if the team hopes to make a dent at the next level. Luckily for the 'Lopes, the Eagles are proving that, with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, even the smallest of programs can make their presence felt during March Madness.

The 15th seeded Eagles have already upset two-seed Georgetown and seven-seed San Diego State en route to a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. No 15 seed has ever made it that far in the tournament.

That’s right, it had never happened until this year and it was accomplished by a team with less than 100 games as a Division I program. The men's basketball program applied for Division-I status in 2006 and began competing on a probationary basis during the next season as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Much like FGCU in 2007, the GCU men's basketball team will begin competing on a transitory probationary basis in Division I next season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

Former Phoenix Suns front office legend and local favorite Jerry Colangelo serves as Special Assistant to the President at GCU and already scored a fairly significant victory for the program, snagging former Suns player and coach Dan Majerle to coach the squad.

The hire gives the team some great name recognition that may help during recruiting, but if Thunder Dan and the rest of the 'Lopes staff want to field a truly competitive team they will need to take a few lessons out of the Eagles' book.

FGCU coach Andy Enfield wrote that book. He showed how a small-market school without any street cred could build a program with Final Four potential.

And that starts out by focusing on the other guys. The second, third, or fourth best players on high school teams throughout the state. The guys with raw skills as opposed to a more polished game.

Enfield knew that this team would never be able to pull in the Austin Rivers type players, so he focused on the Brett Comer types. Comer shared a backcourt with the highly hyped Rivers in high school and now has a chance to compete against him in the National Championship Game.

Comer is not all that flashy and only averaged 8.1 points per game during the regular season but has stepped his game up in the tournament, reaching double digits in points and assists in both games to start March Madness.

Players like Comer and dunk-happy forward Chase Fieler are the kinds of overlooked talents that Grand Canyon needs to snap up. They may not score 20 points a game individually, but a team can become formidable with five high-energy scrappers on the court who each bring an individual talent to the game.

GCU is going to have a tough-time pulling top talent away from in-state powers like the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, so it needs to look elsewhere for its roster.

Colangelo and Majerle have already spoken of a willingness to scour the junior college ranks and overseas markets for overlooked young talent.

Majerle is also going to have to prove his mettle as an Xs and Os guy for GCU to succeed. He will not have the talent to run a generic game plan, relying more on talent than strategy.

Enfield knows his team's talents intimately, proven by his ability to craft a game plan that squeezes every ounce of talent out of the squad. He demands hard work out of his squad, evidenced by the run-and-gun style of play that has propelled the Eagles into NCAA prominence.

The men's basketball team at Grand Canyon University is entering Division I at a time of great parity. A 15 seed is in the Sweet Sixteen and does not appear to be slowing down. Head coach Dan Majerle and basketball guru Jerry Colangelo have a chance to build something special, a winner worthy of the grand arena at Grand Canyon.

Only time will tell.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at wschutsky@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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