Around the World: Tanner McGrew had stops in 3 different countries before landing in the G-League

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part story. The first part was published online Sunday.

This is a second installment of a two-part story regarding former Buckhannon-Upshur and West Virginia Wesleyan standout Tanner McGrew and his journey from playing basketball overseas to competing in the NBA G-League. The story will pick up where the first installment left off in Sunday’s edition.

Going global

James Moore still remembers the conversation in which Tanner McGrew informed him he was going to try out for the basketball team at Wesleyan.

“He came up to me one time after a rehearsal and told me his plan,” Moore said. “I told him my biggest concern is the trombone is your job in this field. I asked him if he thought he was going to go out and play pro ball one day and he said ‘no, I don’t think so. But I want to do this while I have the opportunity.’ ”

It must have come as a shock to both when a representative from South West Metro — a professional club in Brisbane, Australia — reached out to McGrew towards the end of his time at Wesleyan. He and his girlfriend researched the opportunity, tied the knot after graduation and decided to pursue, what just a few years ago, seemed like a pipe dream.

The summer after earning his degree, McGrew was being paid to play the game.

“The club was awesome, but a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to play overseas,” he said. “The levels vary so much — you can go play in a run-down hut or something as close to the NBA as you can get.

“Luckily I got there and they treated me great. The level of basketball was okay, but I had a lot of success. I worked really hard and they gave me the opportunity to show what I had, and I ended up as league MVP that year. It really helped my growth as a player.”

From there, McGrew would bounce around internationally. He would earn a spot with the SISU basketball team in Copenhagen, Denmark for the 2016-17 season, earning Forward of the Year honors in his league. He would then spend the next summer back with South West Metro.

After his second stint in Australia, McGrew landed his biggest offer yet, nabbing a spot with Saint-Chamond in France for the 2017-18 season. It was around this time he began to feel things were getting quite serious.

“That was the highest level of basketball I had played until then. Everybody on Saint-Chamond was paid and basketball was taken very seriously daily,” he said. “You have to change the way you approach things. Eevery day matters so much more. Your fans and your club expect you to win, and you have to make the adjustment mentally to be competitive every day.”

America: Part two

McGrew returned home during the summer of 2018 with every intention of returning overseas later that year to play basketball. But as it has always seemed to go with McGrew’s life, absolutely nothing happened according to plan.

A broken foot would soon sideline McGrew, which would subsequently cause his stock on the international market to drop.

Facing a crossroads in a career that nearly never took off the ground, the unlikely occurred once again.

Via a connection inside the Memphis Grizzlies organization, he earned a spot with the NBA G-League’s Memphis Hustle.

Soon after, in January, McGrew saw himself shipped west in a trade.

He joined the Utah Jazz organization, playing for the Salt Lake Stars in the G-League. He would continue to shine as he climbed the rings toward the highest level of the sport, posting 11 points and 5.7 rebounds per game with the club.

During his run, he would also garner an invitation to play on the USA basketball FIBA World Cup qualifying team.

“At first, I was worried, but I quickly found Salt Lake was a better fit, McGrew said. “The style the coach wanted to play was better for me. I went out and had several strong games and I started getting noticed.

“After a few weeks, I got a call from my agent asking if I wanted to play on Team USA in the qualifiers. That was shocking. It was a big surprise. I didn’t know if it was even the real Team USA at first. It was, and I played in a World Cup qualifier series under Jeff Van Gundy.”

Arrangements were made for McGrew to join the Jazz for their NBA Summer League schedule, where he has put together some quality moments — making the list of SportsCenter’s top 10 plays against Cleveland and dropping a 17-point, four rebound performance on Portland.

“It was really nice to have a good showing there. I got some recognition and I think it’s been good for my career,” McGrew said. “I’m getting to play on cable TV — my friends and family are watching. It’s one of those things you never think is going to happen, and when it does, you want to make the most of it.”

The McGrew legacy

In June, McGrew hosted his first-annual basketball camp in his hometown, on the court he spent countless hours practicing on as at B-U. He brought some heavy-hitting friends along for the day — including former Fairmont State and NBA G-League guard Jamel Morris, former WVU guard and Saint-Chamond teammate Juwan Staten and former B-U guard Hanna McClung — who averaged six points, two rebounds and two assists per game as a freshman this past season at Lenoir-Rhyne.

“It’s something that in Buckhannon, you don’t get to see often. I value being able to bring that experience back,” McGrew said. “I was able to get Juwan Staten and Jamel Morris to come down, and Hannah McClung to come in. I had some help from sponsors and the kids were able to receive a few things in return. It was a really good way to give back to the community using my position.”

The camp is just one impact McGrew has made during his still-unfinished career, but his legacy already spans across Buckhannon, North Central West Virginia and the paths of all those who have crossed him.

Brett Ervin — now coaching under his college mentor Patrick Beilein — mentioned sharing McGrew’s story and tales of his energy and passion for the game with his current athletes.

“He brought energy and intensity to every single practice, and he made guys better the way he played,” he said. “He was always going to push guys for minutes. He took advantage of getting opportunities and used them to make himself better.

“He was grateful for the opportunity to begin with and he didn’t want to disappoint. The work ethic, he found that. No one teaches you that. I would take 12 Tanner McGrews on my team, if I could. He’s the type of player you want to be around, that you want to play with.”

Meanwhile at home, his friends, family and peers — practically his entire hometown — are following his career closely. Eager to see McGrew provide yet another example of how exceptional West Virginians can be. For those in Buckhannon, it’s a bit extra special to see it be someone from their own backyard.

“It’s the coolest thing in the world. I still text him and talk to him — he’s like family,” Moore said. “It’s really rewarding to have this success at this level. It’s been amazing to watch. We’re proud of where we’re from, and to see someone come from here and do all these great things is incredible.”

“He’s such a great story,” Ervin said. “Coming from small town USA, people say dream big and you can do whatever you put your mind to. He’s living that. West Virginia is a state that doesn’t get a lot of respect, and he’s a great role model for the state. Kids should aspire to be like Tanner McGrew.”