By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November. 23, 2018 – Grand Canyon may have come up short on the court in the first two rounds of the 2018 Wooden Legacy, but the Lopes have won hearts and minds. And the crowd.
Well, they already had the crowd because their fans, or the “Havocs” as they are known back in Phoenix, have taken over Titan Gym on the Cal State Fullerton campus.
Remember, this is Thanksgiving. But the baseline bleachers were filled with supporters who are nonstop noise. And GCU is the only participating team to bring a pep band, cheerleaders and a dance squad.
The secret to the school that decided to play Division I basketball in 2013 is slowly but surely losing its reputation at the best-kept secret in college basketball.
“In college basketball, in my 40-plus years, this was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced,” Rick Pitino said after a trip into GCU Arena and a hard-fought 79-70 win for Louisville in 2016. “You’ve got something special here, really special. Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that environment tonight.”
Or another description: “It’s a Miami nightclub in the desert.”
The Lopes have been picked to finished second in the Western Athletic Conference with a team that reflects the style of its hard-nosed coach, former Phoenix Suns star and Olympian Dan Majerle. When they’re not outhustling opponents or bruising their way inside, they’re stepping out to hit a 3-pointer.
“I loved watching Thunder Dan growing up,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
And boy, do the fans travel to support them. Sure, they got a trip to the gates of Disneyland, but they’re set to travel 10,721 miles this season and they actually have a club called “Lopes on the Road” in support of their team. They’ll travel as far east as Chicago and as far north as Seattle.
At home games on campus, it’s expected that as many as 3,000 will show up.
After the first night in the Wooden Legacy, Majerle – even amid the disappointment of a close defeat – perked up when he was asked about the Havocs.
“Oh man, if you ever have a chance to go to Phoenix and watch one of our games, it’s that times 100,” Majerle said. “We rock the place at 7,500 standing room only and this is not a hyperbole. If it’s nmpot the best student fan base in the country, it’s one of the best.
“They travel and they care about our team. We don’t take it for granted, we love it, and they just do a great job to travel. That’s one of the best things about Grand Canyon, it’s the support we have.”