The most recognizable person impacting the nightcap of the Dr Pepper Classic tonight has no ties to Chattanooga.
But he spent 14 years in the NBA as a 3-point and defensive specialist with the nickname "Thunder Dan." He played alongside Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Danny Ainge in the 1993 NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls.
Dan Majerle has translated his experience as an NBA player and five years as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns into his coaching philosophy as the first-year coach of Grand Canyon University.
The Antelopes (5-6) will face the host University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (4-8) tonight at 7 in McKenzie Arena after Maine (1-9) battles Middle Tennessee State (8-2) in the opening game of the four-team tournament.
"It doesn't matter who's over there coaching," UTC first-year coach Will Wade said after practice Saturday. "I'm more worried about what they're doing. The only time you think about it and make the connection is that he runs a ton of NBA sets and gets his best players a ton of shots.
"He has an NBA background, so no wonder they run NBA stuff."
Majerle never played against a zone defense in the NBA. Players such as Scottie Pippen and Mitch Richmond guarded him one-on-one before the NBA allowed zone defenses. But he will have to coach his squad against the Mocs' various zone defenses, which include a 2-2-1 that settles back into a traditional 2-3.
"We can do a lot of things out of it," said junior guard Ronrico White, who has played in UTC's last two games after offseason hip surgery. "Anything that's going to help us get wins and throw off other teams is good.
"There's a ton of things we can do."
Yet, as White admitted, the Mocs must be proficient in the basics before learning more intricate defenses -- like a toddler learning the A-B-C song.
"We have to master one thing before we move on," said White, who has watched games of Majerle wearing a Suns jersey and swishing shots through the net. "I've seen a lot of old games. I'm familiar with 'Thunder Dan' and who he is. But that has no effect on me."
The game will be determined by the players. And UTC senior center Zaccheus Mason is one of those who could have an impact -- or might not.
He missed UTC's last two games due to a toe injury. Mason had an X-ray Saturday that will need to be read today before Wade makes a decision about his availability.
"If he can go, we're playing him," Wade said. "He's done some light work. We'll see."
Mason earned MVP honors last year in the Dr Pepper Classic. This year the Mocs have plans on retaining the trophy that UTC has won 15 times since the tournament started in 1990.
"We want to keep that tradition alive," Wade said. "For a lot of folks, this signifies the official end of football season and the start to basketball season."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.