Grand Canyon University made a shrewd move last year by hiring Dan Majerle to take over its men’s basketball program. The former Phoenix Suns player and coach posted a winning record in the program’s first season at the Division I level – with a team sorely lacking in top Division I talent – and filled the 5,000-seat arena with loud, enthusiastic crowds for every one of its home games. That hoops mania on campus has prompted the school to begin construction of a 2,500 sf addition to the arena to accommodate the fan support.
This past week, the administration made another smart move by offering the women’s head coach a contract extension that will keep him with the program at least through the 2017-18 season. The new contract rewards Trent May for the impressive job he has done through seven seasons at the small Christian college on the west side of Phoenix.
Majerle brought a high-profile celebrity presence with him when he took over the reins of the men’s program. Not only was he one of the most popular Suns players in the history of the franchise, but he sat on the Suns bench for four years and before that was often a part of the team’s broadcast team. His name is also prominently featured on the various restaurants he owns around the Valley and in Flagstaff.
But May comes without the name recognition, NBA pedigree, or celebrity status. Local celebs like Charles Barkley and Jerry Colangelo, along with old playing buddies, don’t come to his games the way they do for Majerle.
Actually, he’s pretty bland by comparison, often getting a point across by quoting biblical scriptures. The bald man behind the black-rimmed glasses is Mr. Steady-as-she-goes to Majerle’s brand of “Show-time” excitement.
He went to school at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, a Division II school with an enrollment of just over 2,000 students, where he played basketball. After graduation, he worked as an assistant coach at SNU for four years, but his only head-coaching experience before coming to GCU was in Kansas where he led the men’s program at Bethany College for six years. Bethany is even smaller than SNU, boasting about 600 students and playing NAIA ball.
But there is no denying his results.
He learned how to win while an assistant at Southern Nazarene, a program that went to the Final Four each years and won a national championship. And then he applied that to his role as head coach at Bethany College, leading the Swedes to a 127-57 record, two appearances in the national tournament that included a Sweet Sixteen finish, and twice was named the conference Coach of the Year.
When he stepped up to Division II, he didn’t skip a beat. During his seven years in charge of the Antelopes program, he has compiled a 151-55 record that included a 29-win season that set a school record. His teams have been to the post-season five of the last six years and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011.
GCU joined the Western Athletic Conference when it began the four-year transition period in Division I play, but during the years it competed in the D-II Pacific West Conference, May was named the PacWest Coach of the Year four times.
May took the 2013-14 squad to a 21-9 record -the fourth straight 20-win season – and a third-place finish in the WAC. And made it to 20 wins again despite a mid-season set-back when the squad lost its top scorer, Judy Jones, to an ACL injury. The 2012-13 Pac-West Player of the Year was leading the team with almost 15 points and nine rebounds per game.
And now his school has given him a few more years to show what he can do at the highest level of competition.
“Trent has demonstrated an ability to develop a competitive and well-respected basketball program in his seven years here in Phoenix, and I have no doubts that he will continue that work in the years ahead,” said his athletic director, Keith Baker.
However, if May does produce the kind of results he achieved in Division II, Baker will face a different kind of challenge. He will have to worry more about holding on to his coach once May hits the radar of the other D-I schools looking for a coach that will do the same thing for them.
In the meantime, May appears to be happy with the recognition the school has given him with a new contract.
“This is a special opportunity for my family and I and the women’s basketball program. Grand Canyon is a great place with great people. I am truly blessed and honored to know what a little bit of the future looks like.”
That peek into the future looks pretty muddy right now… May is losing nine seniors from this year’s squad.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Darryl Webb)