Arizona State and Grand Canyon University are two schools within the same big city vicinity. The schools share the same beautiful surroundings within the city of Phoenix, the weather is spectacular, but that is where the similarities stop. The two local Phoenix area universities seem to be headed in opposite directions.
Arizona State is a program that seems to be in a constant state of rebuilding. The program has had some success, but not to the level of their in-state rival the Arizona Wildcats. When it comes to the Sun Devils and the Wildcats in the state of Arizona, the Sun Devils are a distant after thought to many big time in-state recruits.
Basketball recruits look at winning tradition, facilities, and the ability to get to the “the league” as reasons why they should attend a school. For whatever reason the Sun Devils don’t have that type of swag with this generation of high school player. The consistent winning is not there, the facilities are not there at all, and NBA scouts don’t come around that much.
I believe there is another reason that Arizona State can’t get to that next level of competitiveness.
The excitement around the program just isn’t there. It’s almost non-existent.
When you enter into Wells Fargo Arena on the campus of Arizona State there are just not many fans there to cheer the team on. If the Sun Devils are playing in front of a half full stadium it’s almost a miracle. The only game Arizona State sells out is when the Arizona Wildcats come to town. Other than that game, it’s a barely half full arena.
When recruits come to town and see the half full arena they certainly can’t be impressed with that. No four or five star basketball player wants to feel like they don’t matter to the fans, but that is the signal that the Sun Devil faithful give out when they don’t attend the games.
However, the Sun Devil basketball program really hasn’t given the fans much to be excited about. The team hovers around .500 most seasons, maybe makes the N.I.T Tournament, or doesn’t make any post-season tournament. There isn’t a lot there for fans to hang their hats on with this Sun Devil program.
Arizona State did hire Bobby Hurley to infuse some excitement, but Hurley has yet to put his stamp on the program. Coach Hurley hasn’t produced any big time recruits yet and that is what will get this program moving and create the excitement that the program so desperately wants.
We have all heard the phrase, “good things come in small packages”. Well, if you take a 20 minute drive from Tempe to the west side of Phoenix you will see fans who are excited for their basketball team.
At Grand Canyon University there is excitement in spades for the basketball team.
Head coach Dan Majerle has the attitude of playing any team, anywhere, anytime. He instilling the thought that just because the jersey says Antelopes and not Blue Devils, UCLA or Kentucky it doesn’t mean that they compete on a very high level.
Part of the reason why Coach Majerle has scheduled the likes of Louisville, Duke, Penn State, and San Diego State is to get those players mentally prepared to play anybody. When you go and play Duke or Louisville and the tradition that those two schools have you learn really quick that you need to be mentally tough to compete on an every night basis.
To Majerle’s credit, the program has taken positive steps forward. They had a great 2015-2016 season by going 27-7, they have beaten San Diego State twice, they went to Tucson to play Arizona and only lost by 10, and Coach Majerle has got some big recruits to come play at Grand Canyon.
The leading scorer for the Antelopes, Josh Braun, is rated as one of the top all-around basketball players in the country. His best out of high school recruit so far is 6-6 wing player Oscar Frayer from California. Coach Majerle is bringing in juco guys with lots of experience and trying to lure local kids to come play for him.
Majerle has got Scottsdale product Kenzo Nudo, a prolific high scorer, to attend Grand Canyon University. Due to a torn Achilles tendon he will have to wait until 2017 to make his debut for the Antelopes.
A good local product chooses Grand Canyon over Arizona State. Is this a trend?
Dan Majerle is building something and the fans at Grand Canyon University are noticing it.
Going to a game at Grand Canyon is exciting. The crowd is into it the whole time, the crowd is loud, and there is no doubt that the fans want to make it as difficult as possible on the opposing team to get a win.
The Louisville Cardinal men’s basketball team recently came to play at Grand Canyon University. At the end of the game, head coach Rick Pitino had some extremely complimentary things to say about what is going at Grand Canyon.
“In college basketball, my 40-plus years, that was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced.” Coach Pitino remarked.
Take that Sun Devil fans.
“You got something special here, really special. When you have this type of enthusiasm, it made us a much better team tonight. Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that environment tonight.” Pitino added after his Cardinal team beat Grand Canyon University.
That’s another shot across the bow of the Sun Devil program.
Two different programs going two different directions in the same local area. One has to start thinking that local recruits and even some regional recruits will start looking at Grand Canyon University as a much more viable option as compared to Arizona State. Play in front of a sold out arena or a half filled stadium? Rabid fans or a luke-warm fan base?
We know the answers to those questions.
Perception is reality. What reality would you want to be a part of right now?
Watch out Sun Devils. Here come the Antelopes.