Grand Canyon enters 2nd season in D-I with Majerle
PHOENIX (AP) Expectations were minimal for the Grand Canyon Antelopes last season, entering their first year in Division I with new coach Dan Majerle and an untested roster. That won't be case this season.
Coming off a surprising third-place finish in the WAC, the Antelopes are facing much higher expectations.
''Last year, everyone kind of saw us as a team that's up and coming and the pressure is on us to keep that going,'' said Majerle, the former star for the Phoenix Suns.
No one, not even Majerle, could have predicted the success of last season. The Antelopes were making the move to Division I, the first step in a four-year process for eligibility in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Majerle played for his hometown Suns and had served as an assistant there. While he made his head coaching debut with a roster of some talented players, no one knew quite what to expect.
Even with a roster of seven true and redshirt freshmen, Grand Canyon won't sneak up on teams this year. The Antelopes were picked to finish second in the WAC preseason media poll and third by the coaches.
''Things have kind of escalated,'' Majerle said.
Grand Canyon returns two of its top scorers from last season, Jerome Garrison and Daniel Alexander. Garrison, a senior guard, averaged 16.5 points and Alexander, a transfer from Texas A&M, had 12.7 points after becoming eligible to play in December.
A few more things to look in Grand Canyon's second season under Majerle:
ADDING WOOLRIDGE: The addition of Woolridge could be a huge boost for the Antelopes. The son of late former NBA player Orlando Woolridge, he played 16 games for Kansas and 63 at Washington State, including 28 of 31 as the Cougars' starting point guard last season. The 6-foot-3 Woolridge has played against the highest levels of competition in college basketball and should be a steadying influence.
TOUGH SCHEDULE: Majerle is a proponent of playing a tough non-conference schedule and the Antelopes face a big one right out of the gate - preseason No. 1 Kentucky in Lexington in Friday night's season opener. But that's not all. Grand Canyon will play at Indiana and has home games against New Mexico, an NCAA tournament team last season, and No. 25 Harvard.
ALEXANDER'S IMPACT: Alexander had to wait to become eligible last season because of transfer rules, but had an immediate impact. The 6-foot-9 senior forward led the team with 58 3-pointers despite missing the first part of the season, shot 45 percent from the floor and blocked 34 shots, fifth-most in the WAC.
DEEP BACKCOURT: A lack of depth in the backcourt last season forced Majerle to play his guards heavy minutes, up to 38-39 a game. With the additions of Woolridge and Russell, along with the returning players, Majerle can expand his rotation and cut down on minutes to keep players fresh. The backcourt will be Grand Canyon's strength.
REPLACING LARSON: The Antelopes will need to replace forward Killian Larson, who graduated. He led Grand Canyon in scoring (17.2 points) and rebounding (11.6), with 21 double-doubles, tied for third-most in Division I. Finding a way to replicate that production might take a group effort.