Looks like Grand Canyon University is going to roll the dice with its latest head-coach hire. Nicole Powell has had lots of success as a basketball player, but little experience as a coach.
Powell, who was a high-profile player in the state during her prep career at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, was announced yesterday as the new head coach for the GCU women’s basketball program.
She left the state to play her college career at Stanford, where she became a three-time All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year twice. When she graduated in 2004, her career stats listed 17.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.
An impressive college career led to an 11-year journey through the WNBA after being selected third overall in the 2004 draft by the Charlotte Sting. She won a WNBA championship with the Saramento Monarchs in 2005, was named to the All Star team in 2009, and retired in 2014 as a member of the Seattle Storm.
But her coaching experience includes one year as an assistant at Gonzaga and three more on Kelly Graves’ staff at Oregon, working with forwards and wings while also handling game plans and working the recruiting trail. The Ducks had the No. 3 recruiting class in 2016.
GCU will be her first shot at being a head coach. And that marks a complete departure from the past for the Antelopes’ program.
Her predecessor, Trent May, spent 10 years as a head coach at the D-III level before taking over GCU in 2006 as associate head coach, winning a national championship along the way. He moved into the head coach’s seat the next year and guided the ‘Lopes through six years as a D-II program and then four more during the school’s transition to full accreditation as a Division I program.
May was named PacWest Coach of the Year four times and took his teams to five D-II NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen one of those seasons.
Now Powell will step in to prepare for the school’s first year as a fully-accredited D-I program, taking over after three years during which the ‘Lopes struggled to stay above .500. The 2016-17 squad finished 15-12 overall and 7-7 in the Western Athletic Conference.
GCU, a small Christian college in west Phoenix, now has two head basketball coaches with professional playing experience. Dan Majerle was hired four years ago to lead the men’s program through the transition to Division I, bringing with him name recognition and a high-profile personality that has taken that program to national prominence by scheduling games against traditional powers like Indiana, Duke, and Kentucky.
Majerle’s coaching experience was also limited, but he spent five years as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, a team he played for and built a dedicated following among Valley fans. “Thunder Dan” played 14 years in the NBA, eight of those with the Suns, and is a member of the team’s Ring of Honor.
The boys’ program has enjoyed a re-birth under Majerle as the student section, known as the Havocs, has grown into one of the loudest, most enthusiastic in the country, and the team plays to a packed house for every home game in their recently-constructed (2011) 7,000-seat arena.
Powell will have a tough time competing with that, but local fans who remember her during her prep career at Mountain Pointe may help boost attendance for the women’s program. The 6’2″ forward was twice named the Arizona Player of the Year and selected in her senior year as a Parade Magazine First-Team All-American. She finished with school records in career points (2,478) and career rebounds (1,760).
Name recognition is nice, of course, but it won’t continue to put fannies in the seats at GCU Arena. That will only come with wins.
You don’t have to have head-coaching experience to understand that.