Team making its first appearance at NCAA tourney, GCU, has ties to Michiana

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Even though there’s only one Hoosier team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a small Arizona school has Michiana connections. Grand Canyon University, a small Christian school, is coached by former Valparaiso star Bryce Drew. A young. up and coming member of his staff is former Bethel University player and Head Coach Ryne Lightfoot.

Now Ryne has the chance to learn from the man he grew up idolizing.

One of those magical NCAA tournament moments was Bryce’s buzzer beater over Ole Miss in 1998. It has gone down in Valparaiso and college basketball history.

Ryne was in elementary school at the time, but he still remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I can still remember the shot like everybody does. Like Coach Drew and March Madness kind of go hand in hand,” Ryne said.

Ryne grew up watching Bryce play not only as fan, but as a family friend.

Ryne’s dad, Mike Lightfoot, played for Bryce’s dad, Homer Drew, at Bethel College.

After Homer moved to coach Valparaiso, Mike took over the Pilots program.

“I remember getting the chance to see him play in the NBA. We went when he played with the Charlotte Hornets, obviously he was with the Chicago Bulls for a while, so we had a chance to make little day trips when they were in town and watch him play at that time,” Ryne said.

Ryne became a standout player in his own right.

He left Northwood High School as the all-time leading scorer and went on to be one of just two players in Bethel history with at least 2,000 points, 700 assists and 500 rebounds.

Eventually, he followed in his father’s footsteps as head coach of the Pilots.

Ryne left Bethel in 2019 and took the following year off to regroup.

He traveled to high school and college programs around the country to watch, learn and grow.

“My career playing at Bethel, and then coaching at Bethel and just kind of knowing the ins and outs of one school, I felt like last year I really wanted to take the year and try to establish relationships with other coaches but also to just learn and develop myself in a lot of different areas,” Ryne said.

Along that journey he shadowed coaches like Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and Purdue’s Matt Painter.

He reconnected with Bryce, which led him to his current role as director of player development at Grand Canyon University.

“It’s been an incredible journey. I think just for me, I’m grateful for Coach Drew and his staff, that they’ve brought me on and allowed me to be a part of this group. A great group of Christian men that invest in their players and do things the right way. I’m blessed to be here. My journey here has been a little bit of a rocky road but under the circumstances I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” Ryne said.

The GCU Antelopes are the Western Athletic Conference champions and are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

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