Grand opportunity for Finke

Grand opportunity for Finke

CHAMPAIGN — When Tim Finke first started receiving interest from Division I coaches — in the spring of 2014 — it came in the form of letters from the likes of Northern Iowa and Ohio State.

The catch was, Finke hadn't even suited up for a game of high school basketball.

Contact from college coaches only increased, though, as Finke built himself into a three-time first-team All-Area athlete on the court, receiving double-digit scholarship offers from Division I programs, including one from Illinois before his sophomore year of high school at Champaign Central.

But none included Grand Canyon, the burgeoning Division I program which he signed with last week.

"The opportunity I have going into next year is right in front of me," Finke said.

Tonight, Finke starts his senior season against Springfield Southeast at the Decatur Thanksgiving Tournament.

Finke's college decision occurred almost as quickly as Antelopes coach Dan Majerle, a former All-Pro NBA player, and his staff began actively courting the 6-foot-6 guard. Jeff Finke, Tim's father and coach at Central, said the family started hearing from Majerle in earnest "in the last 60-plus days."

Majerle said he was informed by an assistant a few months ago that he needed to see Tim Finke live and in action. After witnessing Finke on the court, Majerle hiked up his pursuit by telling the youngster exactly where he fit in Grand Canyon's plans — as a shooting guard to replace current senior Josh Braun, a two-time first-team All-Western Athletic Conference choice.

"He's athletic, can get to the basket and finish around the rim," said Majerle, in his fifth season at Grand Canyon. "But the main thing for me is the way he shoots the basketball and the way he competes. I recruit really high-character kids and guys who want to play and be competitive, and he fits our mold."

While Majerle won't guarantee minutes to any of his players, he foresees Finke getting ample playing time off the bat for a squad that has produced 84 wins since joining D-I competition.

"We're excited to have him, man," Majerle said. "I think as far as States-wise, this is our highest recruit we've had sign here."

Finke admitted the decision was a quick one, especially considering he and his family informed coaches this summer they would not discus recruiting until mid-October after Finke suffered a back injury in June.

"(After a summer break) I kind of told myself I was just going to focus on me and get better, focus on my skills, my game, and let the recruiting take care of itself," Tim Finke said. "And so I wasn't even planning on committing this early or taking any visits, honestly."

Jeff Finke said his son's course of action set many coaches toward resuming their recruiting efforts this winter. Majerle was not among that group.

"Grand Canyon didn't let that be a roadblock," Jeff Finke said. "They used it to their advantage" by staying in touch with Tim Finke this fall.

The Antelopes are currently eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time, four seasons after joining the WAC from the Division II Pacific West Conference. The Christian school also became a for-profit institution in 2004, which has spurred growth in Antelope athletics.

At the center of that is the men's basketball program. Majerle offers to prospective student-athletes such benefits as a rocking 7,200-seat GCU Arena — which contains the Havocs student section — and 12 months of warm weather.

"I give this spiel about the things about this campus and how great it is," Majerle said. "But when we get them on campus, it truly is a game-changer because there is no place like this."

That had an obvious impact on Finke, who witnessed live a Nov. 3 exhibition between Grand Canyon and St. Francis (Ill.).

"It seemed like the Havocs had something planned for every single time out," he said. "When you're there, it blows you away because I've never seen something quite like that."

It also doesn't hurt, according to Jeff Finke, that the Antelopes and Maroons play similar styles. Finke described Grand Canyon as a group that likes to move the ball quickly and play challenging defense, adding that Central will put additional focus on the latter area this season.

Other added benefits for the Finkes were Tim having two aunts and a cousin living 10 minutes from the Grand Canyon campus, and the athlete being able to enjoy outdoor activities year-round.

Naturally, Illinois fans may wonder what happened with the Illini's offer to Finke, levied in July 2015 when John Groce was leading the program. Jeff Finke said his son's interest was primarily with Illinois — which includes Tim's brother, redshirt junior Michael Finke — and Vanderbilt by June 2017, but that communication thinned between the Illini and Finkes not long after Brad Underwood took over in March 2017.

"It was nothing against Illinois at all with this decision," Tim Finke said. "That's the biggest thing: It's hard to not go when you have so many people in your ear (saying) to go."

In the end, Grand Canyon swooped in and won over Finke.

"It's just exciting to know I'll be there next year and look to make an impact," Finke said. "I'm really excited to get out there and get everything going.

"Everything they have going down there is unique, it's special, it's something that's on the rise and it's something that stood out to me."