Grand Canyon University introduced former Phoenix Mountain Pointe High basketball star Nicole Powell as its women’s basketball coach during a news conference on Tuesday.

Powell, who spent three seasons an assistant coach at Oregon, takes over the program from Trent May, who was fired last month.

“It hasn’t sunken in all the way yet,” said Powell, who is returning to the Valley, where sports took off for her as a youth. “I couldn’t be more excited and more thankful to have this opportunity.”

Powell was given a Havocs’ jersey from a leader of the student section. She received an embrace from the mascot, Thunder. The pep band played, the cheerleaders cheered, in a pep assembly-like news conference in the GCU Student Union.

GCU President Brian Mueller praised the job Athletic Director Mike Vaught did during his three weeks of intensive, nationwide research to land Powell.

A three-sport standout in high school, she was a four-time All-Arizona basketball player, a two-time Player of the Year, and was named by The Arizona Republic as the Girls Basketball Player of the Century. She graduated from Mountain Pointe in 2000, before moving on to Stanford, where she was a three-time All-American, scoring more than 2,000 points and pulling down more than 1,000 rebounds during her four-year career.

She was the No. 3 overall pick of the WNBA Draft in 2004, and played 10 seasons, before moving into coaching, one year as an assistant at Gonzaga, and the past three years as an assistant at Oregon.

Oregon had one of the country’s top recruiting classes while Powell was there. The Ducks reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Women’s Tournament this season.

“Nicole is one of the brightest young coaching stars in our business and I have no doubt that she will have Grand Canyon competing for conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances very soon,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said in a GCU press release. “Nicole has an infectious personality and a tireless work ethic that will draw both high-level recruits and community support to her program.”

Powell joins her former Mountain Pointe High track teammate, Sara Slattery (formerly Gorton), in the GCU athletics department. Slattery set state distance running records at Mountain Pointe when Powell was throwing the shot.

GCU has turned into a place for former Valley athletes to return and find coaching spots:

  • Men’s basketball coach Dan Majerle was an All-Star with the Suns, helping them reach the NBA Finals in 1993. 
  • Baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz played for the Diamondbacks during their inaugural season in 1998. He was also on the coaching staff at ASU from 2007-09.

Next season, the Antelopes will be eligible for the NCAA Tournament for the first time, after finishing a four-year probation period in their transition from Division II to Division I.

Powell was impressed with the entire university, which keeps growing eight years removed from being on the brink of bankruptcy.

“Everybody is all in, and it makes you want to be a part of it,” Powell said. “I walked away from here, saying, ‘I’ve got to be a part of it.’ I’m glad they felt the same way about me.”

This will be Powell’s first head coaching job.

Vaught said he knows Powell can coach.

“Most of all she is a great person,” Vaught said. “The passion she has, the warm personality and the energy she has for recruiting, really made her stand out in a crowd.”

Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert