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Why Bryce Drew could succeed at Grand Canyon

The Lopes are hoping Drew can take them to the Big Dance for the first time

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Vanderbilt
Bryce Drew takes over a Grand Canyon team that finished 13-17 this season.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Drew needed a fresh start, and so did the Grand Canyon men’s basketball program. Now, both parties will get their wish.

The Antelopes announced in a release Tuesday morning that they have hired the former Valparaiso and Vanderbilt head man to be their next coach.

”We are unbelievably excited to have Bryce Drew lead our basketball program into its next phase of development,” GCU President Brian Mueller said in the release. “Bryce built a very successful mid-major program at Valparaiso and proved he can recruit at a high level at Vanderbilt but, most importantly, he embodies the Christian mission of the University in how he lives his life both on and off the court.”

This appears to be a win-win at first glance. Drew is coming off a disappointing Vanderbilt tenure that ended with a winless SEC season in 2018-19. But he took the Commodores to the NCAA Tournament in his first year and led the Crusaders to five straight postseasons before that.

Grand Canyon did not meet its high expectations under Dan Majerle this season. Picked by the coaches to finish second in the WAC, the Lopes (13-17) stumbled in conference play after losing a pair of impact players in Jaylen Fisher and Oscar Frayer to academic issues.

Here’s why Drew could turn things around and be a success in Phoenix:

He has won before

There is no doubt that Drew can win games. He carries a 164-108 record in his eight seasons as a head coach. Most of that success came at Valparaiso, where he won 124 games and appeared in the NCAA Tournament twice, the NIT twice and the CIT once.

In his first season at Vanderbilt in 2016-17, the Commodores finished 19-16 and advanced to the Big Dance. But the wheels came off after that. Vanderbilt went 12-20 the next season before the bottom dropped out last year, when it finished 9-23 overall and 0-18 in SEC play.

Despite struggling toward the tail end of his stay in Nashville, Drew’s successful seasons have outnumbered his forgetful ones. He had five winning seasons in the Horizon League and one in the SEC, and at age 45, the best part of his career might still be ahead of him.

He can continue GCU’s level of recruiting

Drew is a known recruiter. He delivered the best class in Vanderbilt history in 2018 when he scored Darius Garland and Simisola Shittu, both five-star prospects. The class also included projected first-round pick Aaron Nesmith.

”I like building relationships and recruiting is building relationships,” Drew said in the release. “To be able to go into a young man’s house and sit down with him to map out his future and then have them achieve those goals and dreams four years later is a great feeling.”

However, the star-studded class never met expectations. Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury just five games into his college career and Cleveland took him as the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Shittu had an underwhelming freshman year and now plays for the Windy City Bulls in the G-League.

GCU recruited at a high level under Majerle, though several of his top prospects also did not pan out. The TCU transfer Fisher and Frayer were ruled academically ineligible. ESPN four-star recruit Tim Finke bolted for Wright State last May, and Damari Milistead transferred to San Francisco later in the summer.

Player development will key for Drew at GCU. Once he brings in his own talent, Drew must find a way to maximize it and keep the roster intact — something the Lopes failed to do this season.

He brings positivity to a frustrated team

It’s hard to find Drew without a smile on his face. Even amid Vanderbilt’s historically bad SEC season, Drew tried to emphasize his long-term plan for the program.

Homer Drew, Bryce’s father, is the Hall of Fame coach who won more than 600 career games and took Valparaiso to the NCAA Tournament seven times. The younger Drew is hopeful that he can replicate that success at GCU.

”I want to come in and win championships,” Bryce Drew said. “I want to be able to get the school its first berth in the NCAA tournament. We want to recruit and bring on incredible student-athletes that are great representatives of Grand Canyon and the mission.”

The optimistic approach might be exactly what GCU needs as it searches for its first NCAA Tournament berth. Whether Drew can make it happen remains to be seen. But if he can continue to recruit top players and develop them, the Lopes could be dancing sooner rather than later.