Grand Canyon University has hired Bryce Drew to replace head men’s basketball coach, Dan Majerle, with the hope that Drew brings to the program the kind of success he enjoyed as head coach at Valparaiso University.
Not the results that marked his last career stop, at Vanderbilt, where he posted a 40-59 record in three years and was fired after a 2019 season record of 9-28, without a single conference win.
But the GCU administration is pinning their hopes on what the 45-year-old former college and NBA player (six seasons with the Rockets, Bulls, Hornets) accomplished at Valparaiso during his five years directing the Crusaders’ program from 2011-2016.
He averaged 25 wins a season at the Indiana school, his alma mater, and won four Horizon League season championships. He took two teams to the NCAA Tournament, in 2013 and 2015.
And that is the goal that GCU had set for Majerle, who spent seven years in charge of the ‘Lopes program after replacing Russ Pennell in 2013. He twice came within a single win of reaching that goal.
A former college standout and 14-year NBA veteran, Majerle was hired with the challenging assignment of steering the school through a four-year transition from Division II to D-I.
That meant for four years the former Phoenix Suns player and assistant coach had to recruit players to a small Christian school with no reputation, trying to woo 18-year-olds who knew they wouldn’t be able to play in the postseason since the NCAA doesn’t allow transitioning teams to play in conference tournaments or the NCAA Tournament.
Despite that, Majerle didn’t have a losing season for his first six years, stringing together four 20-win seasons before running into a down season this year when his squad posted a 13-17 overall record and went 8-8 in Western Athletic Conference play.
He was celebrated at the time for how quickly the program got to winning ways. Of the previous 13 programs that had transitioned to D-I, none had a winning record by the third year.
That one losing season turned out to be his last. He was fired last week on the day his team returned from the WAC Tournament, which was cancelled by the NCAA over coronavirus concerns before it even started.
Five days later, the school announced the hiring of Drew, who spent his one season away from coaching as an ESPN studio and game analyst.
The Louisiana native inherits two assistant coaches, Marvin Menzies and Isaac Chew, and six scholarship players. Majerle’s staff had also signed four recruits to national letters of intent.
But Majerle left the cupboard well-stocked for Drew. Those returning for next season include Jovan Blacksher Jr., a point guard who was last year’s WAC Freshman of the Year, and 6’10” center Alessandro Lever, the teams’ top scorer and rebounder.
Drew will have the same all-consuming goal as his predecessor: find a way to crack the NCAA Tournament.
To do that, he’ll have to win the WAC Tournament to get an automatic invite. Majerle made it to the tournament finals the last two years, only to lose to New Mexico State both times in the championship game…one win away each year from the holy grail, a seat at the Big Dance.
We’ll have to see what success Drew will have against the Aggies, a perennial power in the WAC. His success will likely depend on it.
But he is fortunate in one respect. The path to his success has been paved for him by Majerle, who handled the dirty work of getting through the transition period — but won’t be around now to reap the rewards of his work.