By: Paul Coro
When Grand Canyon seniors Matt Jackson
and Gerard Martin
go home to Australia for a month in the summers, their hometowns are separated by more than 500 miles.
They don't talk. There might be an idle text message.
But as GCU roommates, teammates and best mates for five years, their connection picks up seamlessly the moment they reunite. That relationship of Australian acquaintances becoming inseparable Lopes has made each player's life better and done just as much for GCU basketball because they are like different musical instruments who stay in tune with each other. For however long they are apart in games, Jackson and Martin click once they are teamed again.
Their influence is far greater than being this season's seventh- and ninth-leading scorers. Their example has set a cultural tone for a program that has gone 97-49 in their five seasons, a time extended for each because of injury redshirt seasons that they endured by leaning on each other while being an ocean
away from home.
"This is a special place for those guys because they are two really good players who had trust in coming here even when we couldn't go to the tournament and have been great culture guys," GCU head coach Dan Majerle
said. "They want to win. They're team-first. They're great students but even better people. They've helped us win a lot of games and develop the culture that we want. They were perfect recruits for us. We'll definitely miss them when they're gone."
Jackson and Martin knew each other casually when they grew up in Melbourne and Manly, respectively, and played against each other for their state teams. They bonded more as teammates for an under-17 national team, starting the friendship of an odd couple of Jackson's introverted, tidy, mature ways and Martin's extroverted, messy, fun ways.
They were recruited simultaneously by GCU assistant coach Chris Crevelone
and visited Phoenix a week apart, each committing on the spot. There was comfort that they would have each other and that another Aussie, Sam Daly, was playing for GCU.
They have lived together ever since, bonding over basketball, studies that have both in the same sports management graduate program and post-practice viewings of "South Park," "Family Guy" and "The Office."
"We know each other pretty well, so we know when to give each other space and when to push each other," Jackson said. "It's been good. We both have similar goals. It's always easier to push yourself when somebody is right there doing it with you. We've helped each other all the way for sure."
They helped each other with trying times, personally and physically. Martin missed his first season because of knee surgery. Jackson endured a series of five surgeries to his hips and back that sidelined him for 2016-17. Martin has vivid memories of Jackson struggling to stand and walk, but he now is starting for GCU and posted an 19-
point, eight-rebound game in last week's WAC-opening win.
"I felt so bad for him," Martin said. "To look at how good he's playing now, it's a testament to him and his ability to get through adversity and just always worrying about his body and being in the weight room to be ready to play."
Their personalities can be as different as the regions where they grew up, but the relationship is full of unspoken communication and inside jokes now.
"I still wonder," Martin said of how two such different personalities clicked. "I think it's because we both have a respect for each other for who we are. We don't try to be anyone different. He knows who I am and I know who he is. That's how we jell really well. I'm outgoing and loud and he's much more quiet and to himself. When it comes to being in a room and it's just us two, we just sit there quiet and we don't need to talk to each other. We know everything's all right."
That is how Majerle feels about having them on the court. They are selfless players whose statistical lines often are not as impressive as their effect on the final score. They are two of GCU's best defenders for their intelligence, hustle and mobility but also constantly carry out selfless acts, such as setting screens, taking charges and encouraging teammates from the bench.
"You always need a guy like him on your team," Jackson said of Martin. "He does all the little things. He's loud. He's always going to give you everything he's got. His stats might not show it, but every team needs a guy like that to click. He's an on-court, off-court leader. It's so much easier to play with him because he brings the energy and it's contagious. As soon as he comes on the floor, you know he's on the floor and it brings you a spark."
They are popular players in GCU Arena for their abilities and passions and popular students on campus for their accents. Soon, GCU will be without them for the first time since spring 2014.
"It's exciting to see how far we've come," Jackson said. "It'll be exciting to see how far they go once we leave. It's fun to be a part of something like that coming up to take it as far as we can and hand it off to other guys."
Follow Paul Coro on Twitter: @paulcoro.