GCU PG DeWayne Russell finished second to Iowa’s Peter Jok in the College 3-point Championship, which was held at GCU Arena along with the Slam Dunk Championship on Thursday night. Richard Obert/azcentral sports
Grand Canyon University found the perfect recruiting tool during Final Four week in Phoenix.
All it had to do was show off its students, arena and outgoing point guard DeWayne Russell with a sellout crowd of more than 7,000 on national television on Thursday night.
With the student-section Havocs in full force, given the best seats for the ESPN-televised, State Farm college 3-point championships – in the corner, behind the last rack of balls – they erupted before the contest and mostly during Russell’s turns to shoot.
Russell didn’t disappoint.
First, he got by Arizona State’s Torian Graham (booed by the Havocs when he was introduced) in the first round, finishing off the last rack with all swishes.
Russell tied Iowa’s Peter Jok in the championship round, each hitting 22, forcing overtime.
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Russell didn’t have enough left in the tank, going last in the bonus round, and Jok won the title on his birthday. Afterward, the Havocs serenaded “Happy Birthday” to Jok.
More than anything, this was a chance for GCU to showcase what it has to offer on a national stage. And it gave Russell one more chance to receive an ovation from his fans.
Even GCU coach Dan Majerle got worked up over Russell’s effort, pumping his fist when Russell’s last shot, the money ball, put him into the bonus round against the sharp-shooting Jok.
“I’m over here nervous, pacing the floor,” Majerle said. “But he shot it great. It was unbelievable. I’m not surprised. He’s been a competitor since he’s been here.”
Graham scored 13 points in his round, going up against Russell to open the contest.
“That was tough,” Graham said. “A lot of hometown fans (for Russell) yelling, screaming. I felt like I was in a tough basketball matchup.”
It might be the closest thing to GCU and ASU meeting on the court.
“That would have been fun for the fans,” Graham said, regarding ASU facing GCU during his career in Tempe.
Russell appeared to tire in the bonus round, but he felt the crowd pick him up.
“I wish I would have won,” said Russell, who starred at Peoria High School. “I was a little disappointed I didn’t win. But I’m happy about the experience. The crowd’s amazing.”
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Majerle said he never performed well in 3-point shooting contests. He was happy to see Russell come through in the clutch.
As far as showcasing GCU, which becomes eligible for the NCAA Tournament next season, Russell said, “I think it shows we’re up and coming. I think people will see in the years to come how good we really are.”
Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese, who starred at Phoenix Pinnacle High School, returned home and finished second in the women’s 3-point shooting contest, losing by one point in the championship round to Kansas State’s Kindred Wesemann.
“My family is here, I have friends here,” Wiese said. “It’s nice to be home.”
Former Paradise Valley forward Paul Watson of Fresno State lost in the first round of the slam dunk contest getting four 9s and an 8 from the judges. The judges included Majerle, former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, current Cardinals players Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu and ESPN basketball analyst and former Duke guard Jay Williams.
Georgetown’s Rodney Pryor won the dunk competition.
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert.