PHOENIX – It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that when Duke Brennan and Malcolm Flaggs decided after their freshman year at Arizona State to enter the NCAA transfer portal, they would do it together.
And it figures that their trip through the portal would take them to the same destination – a short hop across the Valley to Grand Canyon University.
Flaggs, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who redshirted as a freshman at ASU, and Brennan, a 6-foot-10 center who played in 36 games for the Sun Devils last year, have been nearly inseparable since forging a friendship while playing AAU basketball together.
They started out together as freshmen at Perry High in Gilbert and finished their high school careers as teammates at Hillcrest Prep. They were together again at the start of their college careers at ASU.
Now they’re looking to help the ‘Lopes crash the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.
Flaggs said he is grateful to have met Brennan when they were young and to have a chance to play alongside him again at GCU.
“Duke is my brother, man,” Flaggs said. “I love seeing him progress at each stage, and I am really proud of him. It has been great to see how far he has come. I have been up at 4 a.m. workouts with him, and worked out with him for years. I am really proud of the man he has become on and off the court.”
Brennan echoed that sentiment.
“It is super fun being able to play with Malcolm,” he said. “We have been playing with each other since high school. We both played at Perry High School as freshmen on the freshman team.”
But Brennan said their relationship extends beyond the basketball court.
“We spend a ton of time together, maybe a bit too much time,” he said, laughing.
Their close bond creates chemistry on the court, too, according to Brennan.
“He can find me in spots where other people cannot,” he said. “He knows where I will be when other people don’t, and I love every second of it.”
Brennan grew up in Oregon before moving to Arizona before high school. Flaggs was born in Tuba City on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona but moved with his family to the Valley when he was 2 years old.
Flaggs said he picked up his passion for basketball because of his father, Earl, a former coach at Tuba City. Malcolm Flaggs received several Division I offers coming out of Hillcrest Prep in Gilbert, including from GCU. He reportedly signed as a preferred walk-on player at ASU.
Flaggs and Brennan attended Grand Canyon games together while they were in high school, and knew it was the right fit for them after putting their names in the portal.
“I knew I’d be coming to GCU when I talked to the coaches,” Flaggs said. “I feel like they are really invested in my future, and I feel like I have a group of guys that will believe in me.”
Both sensed a close-knit atmosphere.
“I love the team,” Flaggs said. I feel like we have a bunch of guys that are close, and the team aspect is unlike anywhere else.
Brennan felt it, too.
“The coaching staff did a great job of making the community feel like a family,” he said. “It was a different type of family feeling here, and I love that.”
Flagg added that continuing to play college basketball in the Valley is an added blessing.
“I love staying near home, this is my town,” he said, laughing. “It is amazing to be able to be close to my family. I have a little sister I love seeing, so to be able to be close to her is amazing.”
GCU is the defending Western Athletic Conference champion, and Flaggs believes he can bring a positive mindset to the team day in and day out, and hopefully help drive the Lopes to back-to-back titles.
“That is something I really take pride in, is being a great teammate,” he said. “I love each and every one of my teammates, and I believe we can bring home another conference title.”
Brennan, the 6-foot-10 big man, played volleyball, football and basketball as a child, but chose to stick with basketball as he started growing.
Brennan was recruited by colleges across the country after playing three seasons at Perry before joining Flaggs at Hillcrest Prep. He had a long list of achievements before signing with ASU, including being named a Pangos All-American, Jordan Brand Classic Best of the West Coast Candidate and the Arizona Premier Region 6A Player of the Year.
He says his decision to play close to home was easy.
“I am a West Coast kid at heart,” he said. “My family is all in California, I was born in Oregon. I grew up in Arizona. Being able to stay close to home and play all around the West Coast, where my family members can come, I think that was the main reason.”
His lone year as a Sun Devil was productive as one of four Sun Devils to appear in all 36 games last season, the most ever by an ASU freshman.
Like Flaggs, Brennan said the allure of playing in the electric 7,000-seat GCU Arena and in front of the Havocs, the school’s renowned student section, was a plus. And there are familiar faces on the roster.
“I just love the guys I play with,” Brennan said. “I have known some of these guys for a long time growing up in Arizona, but being able to play with them is amazing.”
Brennan comes from a family of athletes, and he said carrying on the family tradition motivates and inspires him.
“My entire family is very athletic,” he said. “All of my uncles and grandpas played football. My cousin Colt went to the NFL. My other cousin is a walk-on (basketball player) at Kansas. We are both 6-10, so we are the new basketball guys. Being able to carry the Brennan name is very, very important to me, and I wear it with pride every day.”
Antelopes coach Bryce Drew, fresh off a second straight 20-win season, embraced the opportunity to have Brennan and Flaggs on GCU’s roster.
“Being able to coach Malcolm and Duke is awesome,” Drew said. “They both have a charisma for the game and they are very fun to be around.
“On the court, Duke is very aggressive, goes after every basketball and is a very physical player.”
Flaggs and Brennan, said Drew, can help the Lopes win back-to-back conference titles.
“They both come from winning programs with going to the NCAA tournament last year with ASU, and them bringing the same mentalities in is a great starting point,” Drew said.
“The only way to go from here is up, and I look forward to what the season brings.”