PHOENIX – He’s made the trip so often that Liam Lloyd can now recite the driving time between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, with pinpoint accuracy.
“I know the exact hours and minutes is 1 hour, 46 (minutes) with no traffic,” said Lloyd, the former Gonzaga Prep standout who’s now a sophomore guard at Grand Canyon University.
If you consult Google Maps for the driving directions, it’ll spit out “1 hour, 44 minutes,” reaffirming Lloyd’s answer is more than just a rough estimate.
Since his father, Tommy, became the head coach at Arizona following two decades as a top assistant for Mark Few at Gonzaga, Liam’s trips between Phoenix and Tucson have become rather frequent. It seems at least one member of the Lloyd clan is making the 226-mile round-trip expedition on a weekly basis.
Dec. 18 was a banner day for the Lloyds, whose rooting interests are divided three ways when it comes to college basketball this season.
Early in the day, No. 5 Gonzaga knocked off No. 25 Texas Tech 69-55 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix – the first of four games played as part of the Jerry Colangelo Classic that day.
To the south, Tommy and Arizona finished off a 24-point afternoon thumping of Cal Baptist at the McKale Center in Tucson.
The nightcap was a 49-48 win for Liam and Grand Canyon over previously unbeaten San Francisco on the same court the Zags played on earlier in the day.
As an underclassman still waiting to carve out a permanent rotation role on a talented GCU team that won the Western Athletic Conference title in 2020-21 – and brings back a loaded roster this season – Lloyd is still biding his time, making the most of practice repetitions and infusing positive energy to the Antelopes’ bench.
“Waiting your turn, it’s a part of college basketball,” Lloyd said after the USF win. “I’m doing my time and putting the hard work in and it’ll all pay off in the end.”
It’s still an adjustment for Lloyd, who was a 1,000-point scorer at G-Prep where he won consecutive state championships while helping to guide the Bullpups to a 69-10 record over his three-year varsity career.
Lloyd played in 13 of GCU’s 24 games as a freshman and he’s made eight appearances this season for a team that’s opened the year 12-2 .
“We love Liam,” GCU coach Bryce Drew said. “He has a great basketball mind. He never has a bad practice. He’s improving as a player and his attitude is just spectacular.”
Statistically, Lloyd’s best game this season was a four-point, four-rebound effort in 10 minutes against Mississippi Valley State, but his most valuable stretch came in a game in which the 6-5, 200-pound guard didn’t necessarily contribute to the stat sheet.
GCU faced an 11-point deficit late in the first half against Loyola Marymount when Lloyd’s defense over a 5-minute span helped the Antelopes close the gap to three points.
“It’s hard for anyone that’s had that role to come in, and especially when you love it and you’re passionate,” Drew said. “That’s why he’s been good is because he loves basketball and he’s passionate about being better as a player. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in his game over the last year and so as he continues to improve, there could be more opportunities for him to help him win like he did against Marymount.”
Tommy Lloyd’s historic start to the season at Arizona is more impressive when considering the balance GU’s former assistant struck as the coach of the country’s sixth-ranked college basketball program and the father of a Division I player. As of Dec. 18, Tommy had already made time to attend five GCU games, and Liam repaid the favor driving down to Tucson on an off-day to see Arizona beat Northern Colorado on Dec. 15.
“It’s been a blessing, for sure. Having my mom and dad be able to come to my games is always a big plus,” Liam said. “… We’re really busy, obviously, but we usually have Sundays off and he has Sundays off, too, so usually I can slide down there and we can have the whole day to just talk it up and catch up, so it’s good.”
Arizona’s win over Cal Baptist in mid-December bumped the Wildcats to 11-0, making Lloyd the first Pac-12 coach in over a century to win his first 11 games with a program – the last being Stanford’s Walter Powell in 1920-21. Lloyd and the Wildcats dropped their next game, at No. 19 Tennessee, but still sit at No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and will have a strong chance of securing a high seed at the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s earned it, for sure. He’s put his time in, he’s done the hours, he’s done all the hard work, all the stuff that people don’t so,” Liam said. “He’s just earned it, 100%, and just so much respect to him for doing that.”
Liam has already conjured up a dream – or nightmare – scenario for the Lloyd family. Last year, Gonzaga and Grand Canyon were lumped into the same NCAA Tournament region, but the Antelopes’ first-round loss to Iowa eliminated the possibility of a matchup between father and son in Indianapolis. Joe Lunardi’s recent bracketology projections have New Mexico State coming out of a one-bid WAC, but GCU’s resounding start suggests it will also be in the mix, and Liam’s imagined what it would be like to face his dad in a high-stakes March Madness game.
“We’re going to come at them guns blazing and we’re going to try and beat them,” Liam said. “We’re going to treat them like anybody else.”
Drew, GCU’s second-year coach, can relate to some of what the Lloyds are experiencing this season. He played for his father, Homer, at Valparaiso from 1994-98, and his older brother, Scott, is in his 19th season as the coach at Baylor.
“I know his dad’s been able to come and see him practice, come and see him play up here,” Drew said, “so I think it’s a really good situation now with him being this close and they can at least be a part of each other’s seasons whereas last year they really couldn’t.”
Last year’s national championship game served up a Gonzaga-Baylor matchup the college basketball world had been anticipating for the better part of five months.
Maybe everyone other than Drew, that is. On one side was one-loss Baylor, coached by his older sibling. On the other was Gonzaga, a team Drew normally pulls for given his connections to the Spokane-based school. Roger Powell, a former assistant to Drew at Vanderbilt who joined Gonzaga’s staff in 2020-21, is still someone he considers a close friend.
“It was tough, it was tough,” Drew said. “It was tough just because one of my best friends is an assistant on Gonzaga’s team, Roger Powell, and so it was extremely tough watching that game just with all the friendships and dynamics involved. Obviously, my brother is my brother, but cheering for Gonzaga every other time.”