BUCKHANNON — Just a year-and-a-half removed from a record-setting career at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Tanner McGrew is living the dream of playing professional basketball.
The Buckhannon native has taken his game from inside the Rockefeller Center and B-UHS gymnasium overseas.
Currently he’s competing in Australia in the QBL (Queensland Basketball League) on the team that signed him out of college, but recently signed with a squad in Saint Chamond, France, in the Pro B league.
“The QBL is a relatively small league with a lot of guys like me—guys who didn’t have a lot of publicity looking to prove themselves,” McGrew said. “I have gotten the chance to play with and against guys who have played in the NBA, Euroleague and other top professional leagues.
“In Pro B, the league is very competitive and is a chance for me to prove myself at a very high level of basketball.”
One of McGrew’s future teammates in France is a name familiar to the Mountain State — former West Virginia University standout Juwan Staten.
“Anyone that follows WVU basketball knows the name Juwan Staten,” McGrew said. “To be in the same league and conversations as him is a really cool feeling and is something I never thought I would experience.”
McGrew, a 6-foot-8 forward, also didn’t expect to still be playing basketball at the pro level after earning All-MEC honors and being one of the nation’s top rebounders his senior season.
“Absolutely not,” McGrew said of making a living on the court. “Up until I signed my first contract, it all seemed too good to be true. But anyone who has played on my team in recent years can attest that I put the work in to get where I am.
“To look back to high school and see the transformation, I’m overwhelmed. It still seems unreal that I’m in the position I am. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of support from the town and a lot of blessings.”
McGrew has adjusted well to playing at the professional level. He has averaged in double figures in both scoring and rebounding and earned several postseason honors, including the Eurobasket.com All-Danish Ligaen Forward of the Year.
“As a player, I am expected to be much more versatile than I was in college,” McGrew said. “Being able to shoot, dribble, pass, rebound and defend are all expectations that I have to exceed in order to continue my career.
“The market is so competitive that if I am not producing, it makes no professional sense to keep me. Another factor is the amount of time that goes into basketball throughout my days. A lot of people probably think I am just on a vacation playing a game, but it is much more than that to me. I spend five hours or more every day working on skills, my body and other aspects of my game that need to improve.”
McGrew added he still relies on his post game to be successful, along with something dear to his heart.
“The majority of my success has come from being a playmaking ‘big’ who can pass and shoot,” he said. “But one thing that hasn’t changed is my rebounding. I have held that statistic near and dear ever since my junior year of college.
“I was able to lead the QBL in Australia in rebounding, as well as the Basketligaen in Denmark. That is one aspect of my game that I hope never changes.”
Off the court, there was also an adjustment period, including getting married last year.
“Life as a professional athlete is much different than the life I lived in college, both on and off the court,” McGrew said. “ I have an unusual situation. I have housing, my car, my insurance and all the other necessities arranged for me. A lot of stresses that most people endure, my wife and I are able to avoid. Although it is hard work, my professional life so far has been a major blessing.
“Before moving to Australia last year, my wife and I made some huge commitments right away. I have always been very close to my family and spent the majority of my time with them. I lived in Buckhannon my whole life, so coming to Brisbane and then Copenhagen were serious culture shocks. I spend all of my free time from basketball with my wife, but I am still adapting to not having my family close by. They are my biggest support system and follow my every move, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
McGrew has high goals for himself. Along with keeping his wife, Abbey, happy, he wants to be on the All-league team in France, play in a top league of a major European country, compete in the NBA summer league and sign a six-figure contract before he turns 30.
“As of right now, I am exactly where I hoped to be in my career, especially just signing in a very professional league,” McGrew said. “Some might see these goals and think I am crazy, but I have surpassed every expectation I have had for myself within a year.
“If I don’t set my goals high, I’m failing myself both personally and professionally.”
Even though his professional lifestyle offers very little free time, McGrew still follows the basketball happenings in Buckhannon, including the Lady Bucs’ state runner-up finish this past season, and is happy to offer some advice.
“If I could tell the guys and girls at the high school level anything, it would be to never stop learning,” he said. “I recently had a chance to play with an Olympic athlete for the Australian team and I was able to learn so much from just five games beside him.
“High school is a chance to improve your game and prove yourself. Don’t be afraid to do just that.”
McGrew also has a message for the B-UHS girls team.
“Huge congratulations to the Lady Bucs on their tournament run,” he said. “ Go get Buckhannon a state title this year!”