Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon pumped for March Madness in Las Vegas

Forrest. Bayard Forrest.

It has been 40 years. I still hear James Bond music and, like Dr. No, break into hives at mere mention of his name.

When I was in college, Bayard Forrest was a 6-foot-10-inch center for Grand Canyon College. It said only “CANYON” on the front of his jersey. Instead of 007, he wore No. 50.

Because of how skilled he was in basketball, my little school did not get to go to Kansas City, Missouri, to play in the NAIA championship tournament at Kemper Arena. At least not when 6-foot-10-inch Bayard Forrest played for Grand Canyon College. We had to wait until he was in the NBA.

“He’s still our all-time leading scorer,” said Charles Hampton, Grand Canyon’s sports information director.

After tormenting NAIA District 7, Bayard Forrest went on to back up Alvan Adams with the Phoenix Suns, which was a big deal for little Grand Canyon College.

Grand Canyon College isn’t so little anymore. And it isn’t a college. It’s now a university. It has 90,297 students, having become a for-profit Christian university in 2004 — a diploma mill, if one insists.

There is a lot of tuition money and fees coming into Grand Canyon. So where once there was a sweaty bandbox of a gymnasium with a few rows of bleachers and two NAIA national championship banners hanging from the rafters thanks to Bayard Forrest, there is now a spectacular 7,000-seat arena, a rabid cheering section known as The Havocs, a famous coach and a famous benefactor.

Las Vegas bound

At noon Thursday, Grand Canyon will play the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. It will be the Antelopes’ first taste of March Madness since acquiring NCAA Division I status for the 2013-14 season and serving a probationary period.

Dan Majerle, a three-time NBA All-Star for the Suns when he was known as “Thunder Dan”, is the Grand Canyon coach. Jerry Colangelo, the Suns’ former coach and general manager and a man who has done so much in athletics and education and philanthropy that he often is called the “Most Famous Arizonan,” is his benefactor.

Grand Canyon playing its way into the NCAA Tournament is Majerle and Colangelo’s dream.

“We are very excited to play in our first WAC tournament in Vegas. Our guys are unbelievably pumped,” Majerle said.

This was before he went on Dan Patrick’s radio show Monday. Rest assured Patrick’s producers did not settle for Majerle because the UMKC coach wasn’t available, or the guy after the guy who succeeded Marvin Menzies at New Mexico State, or the coaches at Utah Valley or Seattle or UTRGV, which stands for University of Texas Rio Grand Valley, coached by Lew Hill, a former Lon Kruger aide at UNLV.

SHORT DESCRIPTION (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“It means a lot to our guys; you can just see it in their face,” Thunder Dan Majerle continued. “The last four years, playing in the CIT or the CBI … and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we knew we couldn’t play in our tournament and there was really nothing at the end of it.

“It’s going to be tough, but they love it and so do I. It’s been a long time — it’s gone quick — but it’s been a long time.”

Mr. Colangelo calling

Grand Canyon, which played St. John’s, Louisville and Illinois, went 20-10 and 9-5 in the WAC and will be seeded third at The Orleans. This may not be Majerle’s best team. But it’s the first one participating in March Madness since the Suns skipped him over to become head coach, since Jerry Colangelo called to say he had a new challenge for him right there in the Valley of the Sun.

“Mr. Colangelo called and said, ‘There’s a job right down the street from where you live,’ ” Majerle told Dan Patrick. “It’s Grand Canyon. They’ve got a bright future. They’re going to go Division I, and they want you as coach. Can you sit down with the president?

“I did, and it’s the best move I ever made.”

The week already is off to a promising start. On Tuesday, Grand Canyon learned that its application to return to a nonprofit school has been approved. If other approvals are obtained, it will allow the school to accept donations and research grants as well as save a ton on property taxes.

That should give The Havocs even more to cheer about. I’ll bet that Bayard Forrest also is pleased, though I still don’t care for him much.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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