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Bryce Drew walking by faith in leading Grand Canyon to 1st NCAA Tournament appearance

Bryce Drew’s year away from coaching was just what he needed — time spent with family, clearer head space, and time to do things he enjoyed away from basketball.

He had a job he enjoyed as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, and he felt content after the initial disappointment of being let go as the head coach at Vanderbilt.

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“At the time I was let go, I wanted to jump back in right away,” Drew said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in December. “I wanted to get a job right away. I was competitive, wanted to start winning. I had some really good Godly counsel tell me, ‘You should probably just take the year off. You worked so hard these last few years. Really reflect a lot.’”

He and his wife, Tara, made a short list of schools that, if they called, he’d take the job. On that list was Grand Canyon University, a large Christian university in Phoenix, Arizona, with a basketball program that boasts a rabid fanbase, especially its student section.

“Thankfully when GCU opened, we came and saw campus,” said Drew, who was named the head coach on March 17, 2020. “After seeing it, my wife was ecstatic. I was ecstatic. She was like, ‘Here’s part of the reason why we know what we’ve gone through this last year [was] to be able to get to this point.'”

It’s safe to say that GCU is ecstatic about Drew, too. His 15th-seeded Antelopes will suit up against No. 2 seed Iowa on Saturday in the first round of what is GCU’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. In his first year as head coach, Drew led GCU to a 17-6 record, its first-ever Western Athletic Conference regular season co-championship, and its first-ever conference tournament championship.

While brother Scott Drew’s Baylor team, the No. 1 seed in the South region, will be a favorite pick in brackets to reach the Final Four and potentially win the championship, Bryce is hoping to be a part of yet another March cinderella story.

In 1998, while playing for his father Homer’s Valparaiso team, Drew delivered one of the most iconic moments in NCAA Tournament history with his buzzer-beating shot to beat No. 4 seeded Ole Miss in the first round:

Dubbed “The Shot,” it’s one of those things Drew has accepted as something he’ll probably always be asked about, especially in March. But he recognizes how special it is and how much it’s shaped who he is and led him to where he’s at in his career.

“When God blesses you and He gives you something you don’t deserve … He gave me an awesome platform with that ball going in the rim, which, it could’ve very easily been short and not gone in,” he said on the podcast. “It’s something that I really enjoy talking about just because there was a lot of commitment in it, a lot of hard work, a lot of faith, a lot of belief for that moment to come out.”

Basketball is pretty much all Drew’s ever known, but there was a time when it was almost taken away from him. His life, actually, could have been taken from him. It’s also the moment he decided to make his faith in God his own and accept Jesus as his Savior.

He had a heart condition that required surgery. Odds are things would go great, he’d receive a pacemaker, and continue on with his basketball career. But it was a newer procedure, and he recalls his family having to sign papers acknowledging that he could die from the surgery.

“It kind of made me grow up early and realize, ‘You know what? When I open my eyes, I have no control over what’s going to happen in my life,'” he said. “From that point on, even if my parents were out of town and couldn’t go to church, I wanted to go and learn more about the Lord and grow in my faith.

“That was my first step, but there’s been other steps along the way where I think God’s really shown me His presence and just how He’s in control no matter if it’s a good circumstance or a bad circumstance. As I get through it, I see how God was working throughout the whole process,” Drew said.

After his stellar college career, Drew was drafted No. 16 overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1998 NBA Draft and played six seasons in the NBA, before eventually becoming an assistant coach for his father at Valparaiso. He ended up taking over as head coach in 2011 and led the Crusaders to four regular-season championships and two conference tournament championships. He was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year three times.

His No. 24 jersey is retired at Valparaiso.

As the saying goes, you can take him out of Valparaiso, but you apparently can’t take the Valparaiso out of him. When GCU won the WAC championship on Saturday, it was 23 years to the day of when Drew hit that famous shot to beat Ole Miss.

“God’s timing is even better,” Homer Drew told GCU Insider Paul Coro.

Now, for the NCAA Tournament, Bryce goes back to Indiana where it all started — where he was a star at Valparaiso High School and eventually the state’s Mr. Basketball winner after his heart surgery.

Win or lose, Drew is continuing to trust in God as he’s done at every other step along his basketball journey. He’s hoping to lead GCU on a similar run to the one he led Valparaiso on as a player in 1998, when his team made it to the Sweet 16.

“It’s definitely a walk of faith,” Drew said on the podcast. “It’s still a walk of faith, but we know God has us exactly where He wants us for this moment in time.”

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