Since March 16, things had not particularly gone Grand Canyon’s way. That day, the Lopes were beat by New Mexico State for the third time of the season, as the Aggies punched their NCAA ticket with a 32-point drubbing in the WAC title game. The transfer frenzy was then not kind to GCU, as once-upon-a-time highly-touted wing Tim Finke and point guard Damari Milstead left the program.
The roof may not have been caving in — the Lopes did add an impact transfer in Gabe McGlothan — but momentum did not seem on the side of a program so desperately seeking the validation of its first-ever NCAA Tournament. That changed, at least somewhat, on Tuesday.
Former TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher announced that he was trading in the “T” for a “G” and remaining in a purple, block-lettered jersey by transferring to GCU. It was a boon for Dan Majerle, who added a talented, accomplished lead guard to a roster that sorely needed one. Fisher, who has struggled with knee injuries the past two years, would need to receive a waiver to play immediately, but should that come through and he remain healthy, the Lopes would pretty clearly have the WAC’s top newcomer.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
The past two years GCU has had a big ticket, immediately eligible transfer win. Two years ago it was Oregon’s Casey Benson and last season it was Illinois’ Michael Finke, both lured in part by family connections to the program. Both had quality years in Phoenix, but neither helped lead GCU to the NCAA Tournament. Fisher, it would seem, represents a bigger win than either.
Point guard was the Lopes’ primary area of need heading into 2019-2020 after Milstead’s departure to San Francisco. His improvement last year as a sophomore helped the team drastically increase its offensive efficiency from the season prior, and without him, the team would’ve relied on St. John’s transfer Mikey Dixon — more of a combo guard who wouldn’t have been eligible until January — and freshman Jovan Blacksher.
Instead, Majerle could turn his offense over to a former All-Big 12 Honorable Mention guard that helped lead the resurgence at TCU when he was healthy. That Fisher is a career 41.2 percent three-point shooter is just as important, as he’ll share a backcourt with the talented-but-slashing-heavy Carlos Johnson.
Surely by now New Mexico State fans that have gotten this far are preparing to fire off the angriest of tweets. But the Aggies are precisely why the Fisher decision has major implications within the WAC since, as always, they are the heavy favorite within the league next season. The five players that closed the game in which NMSU nearly clipped Auburn in the NCAA Tournament all return next season, and Chris Jans has done nothing but win in Las Cruces (including a sparkling 6-0 mark against GCU).
Pair that with a league that saw a potential threat to NMSU wither — at least in the short term — when Mark Pope left Utah Valley for BYU, and the Aggies are poised to be in a stratospheric tier compared to the competition next season. Seattle could well mount a threat with its talent and continuity and programs like UT Rio Grande Valley and Cal Baptist seem poised to build on quality seasons. But with Fisher potentially taking the reins at GCU, the Lopes seem the most capable threat to NMSU’s supremacy.
The former Horned Frog is arguably the most talented player the Lopes have had in the Majerle era, and certainly the most dynamic since Dewayne Russell was whizzing through defenses. With him, Johnson and a more complementary Alessandro Lever, GCU has a core with big potential, and will surround it with intriguing back court pieces (Northwestern transfer Isiah Brown, JJ Rhymes) as well as hyper-athletic wing Oscar Frayer.
The story of the WAC is NMSU and the other side of that coin is the story centered around the program capable of knocking the Aggies off their perch. GCU’s quest to transition from interesting novelty to legitimate mid-major player on the national scale has stalled at the Aggies’ feet the last two years. They’ve gotten big transfers before — will Fisher be the one that finally helps them take that next step?