MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Just over a month away from the start of play in The Basketball Tournament, Best Virginia’s roster is continuing to take shape.
The 2022 team announced its seventh player Tuesday, and though Tanner McGrew doesn’t have a specific tie to West Virginia University, the Buckhannon native and former Division II All-American at West Virginia Wesleyan is no less excited to be a member of Best Virginia, which is set to make its third appearance in TBT.
“It’s gotten to the point now where it’s kind of commonplace that I see these guys around,” McGrew said. “Growing up, I watched Kevin [Jones] play, watched Da’Sean [Butler] play and watched that generation. We were fans and idolized these guys. In West Virginia, we don’t have professional teams, so those were our professionals. We see these guys as really special individual athletes.
“Whenever I first got the opportunity, it was hard to see myself as an equal, but over the years, it’s been my goal to keep that confidence and consider myself at that same level. Just to play on the same team as them, knowing how I grew up and everybody around me idolized these guys, it’s really special for me and means a lot that they invited me on and hopefully I’m able to contribute.”
McGrew was set to play in his first TBT a year ago as a member of the Underground Kings, a squad largely comprised of former Mountain East Conference Standouts. Although it didn’t have a full complement of players, Underground Kings gave Best Virginia all it could handle in a July 2021 exhibition at Wheeling Park High School. UK jumped out to an 11-0 lead in that matchup, before trailing 41-39 at halftime en route to a 77-63 loss.
The Underground Kings, however, ultimately withdrew from last year’s TBT before the event began, meaning this summer will mark McGrew’s first time competing in the 64-team tournament.
“We had a group of guys who were all professionals who could’ve come together and probably put a good team in, but a couple fizzled out and Jamel [Morris] ended up playing with Best Virginia,” McGrew said. “We didn’t have quite the team we wanted going into that game last year, but it was really good for the guys that I did know on the team when we played against WVU’s guys. It was nice to get back and have the experience of playing with them again. We held our own. We ended up losing, but throughout three quarters, it was a competitive game. We shocked them a little bit. That was good.”
McGrew’s unique backstory included playing at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, where he was essentially not recruited and averaged 7 points per game as a senior.
He went on to attend nearby West Virginia Wesleyan on a music scholarship. During the 2012-2013 season, then-Wesleyan head coach Pat Beilein — a former sharpshooter for the Mountaineers and the son of former WVU, Michigan and Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein — saw the 6-foot-7 McGrew shooting in a gym and convinced him to join the Bobcats’ program as a walk-on.
The rest, as they say, is history.
McGrew led all of Division II in rebounding as a junior and earned first-team all-MEC honors. The following season, McGrew became a Division II All-American with averages of 22.5 points and 12 rebounds on 56 percent field-goal shooting.
Since the conclusion of his career at Wesleyan, McGrew has played for the Salt Lake City Stars and Memphis Hustle in the NBA G-League. He’s also played professionally around the world, making stops in Australia, Denmark, France, Portugal and most recently Romania.
“I played in Porto a couple years ago and I broke my leg and was out for 13 months,” McGrew recalled. “Not this last season, but the season before, I came back for half a season and I wasn’t 100 percent. I wasn’t able to get back to my true self. Nothing wrong with Romania, but I had been at a level that was a bit higher and kind of had to take a step down. Not a huge step, and still high level basketball, but at the peak of my career, I had a lot more option in where I was going. I got to make decisions, whereas this last year wasn’t the same and it was more narrowing down a few choices for the best one.
“This year, especially if I can have a good showing in the TBT, I hope that I’ll have a lot more options.”
McGrew joins fellow front court players Kevin Jones, John Flowers, Devin Ebanks and guards Juwan Staten, Jaysean Paige and Jamel Morris as confirmed players for this year’s Best Virginia team.
McGrew was a teammate of Staten’s for a season in France, and though that’s the only member of Best Virginia he’s played alongside, McGrew has a close relationship with both Jones and Flowers.
“In the summers, I’ve spent a ton of time with Kevin and John,” McGrew said. “I do everything I can to go up against Kevin as often as I can, because he’s so talented that it’s good practice for me and I get the opportunity to test myself and get better.
“As often as I can, I’m in the gym with them. They’re kind of my connection up here and how I get my work in during the summer. I do as much as I can to be around them.”
Best Virginia will play a lone exhibition July 16 at Fairmont State in advance of the West Virginia Regional from July 24-27 at the Charleston Coliseum.
The team’s roster is yet to be finalized and there are likely several additions to be announced in the near future. Regardless, Best Virginia head coach James Long is welcoming the addition of McGrew as he prepares to guide the team for a second straight summer.
“Tanner’s really cerebral, a great basketball player and tough,” Long said. “More than anything, he can play with a lot of different lineups. He can be more of a 4 for you and he can be a smaller 5 and guys can play off of him. He passes it really well. He can be a pick and pop threat. Anytime you can give that pick and pop threat with Juwan and let him get downhill to where that big can’t stay downhill too long with you, it makes Juwan a lot better.
“He’s a great a teammate. We’ve all known tanner for a while now and we’ve all developed a relationship with him and felt comfortable putting him on the team. Whether you need 6, 12 or 20 minutes out of him, he’s going to give you great minutes, be a great basketball player and pick people up.”