Liam Lloyd called his dad, Tommy, after Grand Canyon won the WAC Tournament from a location both know very well inside the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“He was so excited,” said Tommy, the longtime Gonzaga assistant coach. “He called us Saturday night from the old hockey locker room, the same locker room we’ve celebrated (WCC Tournament titles) many times and he was in there with us. It’s cool to see him there with his own team.”
Liam seconded that opinion.
“It was like I imagined it would be, but definitely different being a first-person experience,” said Liam, a freshman guard with the Antelopes. “It’s something that I experienced by myself and did myself and with my team so it was really cool.”
Even cooler – Grand Canyon is in the same West Region as top-seeded Gonzaga and both squads are in Indianapolis, home of NCAA Tournament for the next three-plus weeks.
The15th-seeded Lopes face second-seeded Iowa in the opening round at 3:25 p.m. Saturday at Farmers Coliseum. No. 1 Gonzaga plays at 6:20 p.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the winner of Norfolk State/Appalachian State.
The possibility of a GU-GCU first-round matchup crossed the mind of father and son, but both figured it was unlikely with most bracket projections listing the Lopes as a 14 or 15 seed. The only chance they’d meet now is if both teams win three games and reach the regional final.
One bracketologist did project Gonzaga-Grand Canyon meeting in the opener had the Lopes won a First Four game.
“We’re ready for whoever we play,” the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Liam said. “We’re going to play every team to the best of our ability. Gonzaga is always going to be my home. Grand Canyon is also my home. It’s awesome to see both of us successful.”
Tommy said GU’s “numbers guys” – assistant coach Brian Michaelson, director of operations Jorge Sanz and video coordinator Ken Nakagawa – were pretty convinced Grand Canyon wouldn’t be a 16 seed.
“It wouldn’t have been my first choice (to play Grand Canyon) but I don’t have any control over it,” Tommy said. “Whoever they put in front of us, we’ll prepare to try to win.”
Who would have had the scouting edge?
“My dad is definitely an OG, but I know some of the (GU) players personally,” Liam said. “I know what they do. It’d be a lot of fun.”
“I’ve watched a lot of Grand Canyon games,” Tommy said. “I think I’d have a good head start, but I’m sure Liam would say the same. He’s watched a lot of Gonzaga games in his life, been in on pregame talks and halftime talks. He’ll think he has some inside knowledge.”
Gonzaga is chasing history, trying to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976. Grand Canyon has already made history, earning the program’s first trip to March Madness.
“It’s been super cool being part of something so special and something that’s never happened at our school,” said Liam, who estimated 150 Grand Canyon students attended the WAC title game. “The school is going nuts. I wasn’t alive when Gonzaga first made it to the NCAA Tournament, but I know it was a huge deal for them and led to so much success in the future.”
Liam grew up around Gonzaga’s program and players, frequently attending practices and games unless they conflicted with his own schedule at Gonzaga Prep. Lloyd and Gonzaga sophomore forward Anton Watson helped the Bullpups win a pair of 4A state championships.
Following Gonzaga home games, where Liam occasionally sat courtside next to radio announcers Tom Hudson and Adam Morrison, the younger Lloyd often could be found working on his shooting inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I’ve always been around Gonzaga,” he said. “Me and my dad always thought I could create my own experience and own way. I’ve always thought I was going to go outside of Gonzaga. I fell in love with Grand Canyon because it felt like home. That’s why I came here.”
He arrived with countless hours of his dad’s tutelage in tow.
“He put a ball in my hands since I was a baby,” Liam said. “He taught me everything I know, taught me how to shoot and dribble.”
Tommy said one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic was spending more time with Liam before his son left for Phoenix in June.
“Spring of your senior year you’re never hanging with your parents, you’re out with your friends,” Tommy said. “We got to shoot and work out a ton, which was really nice.”
There are a few more connections between Gonzaga and Grand Canyon. The Lopes are coached by Bryce Drew, previously the head coach at Vanderbilt and Valparaiso with current Zags’ assistant Roger Powell Jr. on his staff. The two are close friends.
TJ Nelson, Gonzaga’s coordinator of basketball administration, played at Grand Canyon and spent seven years on the staff as an assistant coach and director of basketball operations.
Liam and Tommy are hoping for lengthy stays in Indianapolis for the Lopes and the Zags. Grand Canyon is a 15-point underdog against Iowa, which lost 99-88 to the Zags on Dec. 19.
“Gonzaga is definitely very special, super deep, run the floor, can score the ball very efficiently,” Liam said. “They’re hard to beat. All of Gonzaga’s groups have been close, but this group is very close. I think they’re primed for a deep tournament run.”
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