It’s just an exhibition, against an NAIA program from Prescott in Embry Riddle, but don’t tell that to Grand Canyon’s student section, the Havocs, who are getting national attention.
A section, ranked No. 9 in college basketball expert Andy Katz’s March Madness Top 10 list for student sections in the nation, will be in force when the Antelopes tip it off Wednesday night at 7 at GCU Arena, where there could be 7,000-plus watching.
Katz has Duke’s Cameron Crazies ranked No. 1, followed by Michigan State, Purdue, Kansas State, Kansas, Illinois, Auburn and UConn — all high majors. Rounding out the Top 10 after No. 9 GCU is national runner-up San Diego State, which visits GCU on Dec. 5.
“I even think we could be higher than what it was,” GCU coach Bryce Drew said about the ranking. “But it’s great that people are recognizing it nationally. There is so much energy that they bring to the arena.”
That will have this new group of Lopes pumped to play in their exhibition, kind of a dress rehearsal for next Monday’s opener at home against Southeast Missouri.
Fans will see several familiar faces — guard Ray Harrison and forward Gabe McGlothan, mainly — but a lot of new players, led by power forward Sydney Curry, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound senior who transferred from Louisville, who should give the Lopes an offensive presence in the paint. They’ll also see 6-10, 250-pound Duke Brennan in his first game in a GCU uniform after transferring from Arizona State, where he played a vital role off the bench in ASU’s run to the NCAA Tournament last year as a true freshman.
They won’t see point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. on the court. At least not yet. Drew isn’t sure if Blacksher will play in Monday’s opener. He wants to be careful with him, after he had reconstructive knee surgery last January for a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Blacksher was last year’s WAC Preseason Player of the Year, before his season got derailed by injuries.
“He’s doing well,” Drew said. “He’s taken a big step these last couple of weeks. Right now, it’s just waiting for doctors to give final approval. But ultimately it’s going to come down to him and how he feels. I don’t want to put him out there until he’s confident and ready. We’re looking at a more long play. March really matters. We want to make sure we have the best version of him later in the year and not try to speed things up too early in the season.”
GCU, which had a roller-coaster season after Blacksher’s injury in WAC play, didn’t come together until the final week on a trip to Utah. Then, it won four WAC Tournament games in five days to get to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years with Drew leading the program.
Guard Josh Baker, a former Tempe McClintock High standout, is close to returning to game action, coming back from a shoulder injury that required offseason rehabilitation.
Drew and his staff filled some holes in the transfer portal, the biggest of which was replacing guard Chance McMillian, who was clutch in March during GCU’s runs to the national tournament in 2021 and 2023. Harrison coming back after testing the NBA waters was huge. He was the WAC Tournament MVP last year and comes into this season as the WAC Preseason POY and first-team All-WAC, along with McGlothan, who will return to the forward position after playing center down the stretch last season when the Lopes went with small ball.
This team is athletic and will be tough on defense, which should lead to more transition baskets. Georgia State transfer Collin Moore should be a catalyst on that front. The biggest question mark is 3-point shooting. Isaiah Shaw, who missed the last half of last season due to an injury, should be one of GCU’s best 3-point marksmen.
Shaw is expected to be one of the first players off the bench.
Isaiah’s brother, Caleb, a sophomore, who starred at Chandler Valley Christian High, may wind up redshirting. Drew said he and his staff are still debating whether to redshirt him or not. He transferred from Northern Colorado, where he played extensive minutes as a freshman.
“His best basketball is ahead of him,” said Drew, who is the uncle of the Shaw brothers. “He’s definitely good enough to help us this year. To what extent? We’re going to have to how things go, and with these guys, how they come back.”
With the early signing period beginning Nov. 8, GCU got a big commitment from 7-footer Austin Maurer out of Oregon. He was the 3A Player of the Year last season, playing for Cascade Christian, where he averaged 24 points and 13 rebounds in the state playoffs. He announced his commitment on Instagram, saying, “110% committed.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: GCU basketball’s student section ranked among top 10 in nation