Tanner McGrew made a name for himself in the MEC and around North Central West Virginia — but when he tips his professional season off, he says he turns into a different player.
“I started lifting weights really heavily in college, that’s kind of how I became a good player….It kind of gave me confidence,” he said. “I was able to go into every game feeling like I was stronger than the guys I was going against.”
McGrew improved dramatically as a player in those four years, averaging a double-double in his All-American senior campaign. That led to his first professional contract with SISU Copenhagen in Denmark.
At WVWC, he played more of a big man position and maintained his strong play on the glass. McGrew scored 16.2 points and 10.8 rebounds during his only season in Copenhagen, but as a 6-foot-8 center, it was apparent that he would have to change his game to compete at the pro level.
“It’s tough to be a five-man at that size, so I had to develop a shot and when you’re outside, you’re not around the rebounds quite as much,” he said. “So my numbers went down a bit, but I still take a lot of pride in crashing the boards and being physical on that side of the ball.”
McGrew took the tour around the sub-NBA levels of pro hoops, moving to France’s second-flight league before two years in the G League. In 2019, he signed with Portugal’s FC Porto and was back in double-double territory in his first season with the club.
Year two, however, didn’t work out quite as well.
“I actually broke my leg and was out for like 13 months, and then came back for [2020-21] for like half a season, and I wasn’t 100 percent, so I wasn’t really able to get back to my true self,” McGrew said.
That prompted his next move to CSU Sibiu of Romania’s Liga Națională, which he called a “middle-tier” league. He got back to prominence in Romania, averaging double-digit points and logging his highest three-point percentage overseas.
McGrew has had one advantage over many of his fellow expatriates overseas: the support of his wife, Abbey, a WVU alumna. McGrew didn’t even know where his career would take him when it first started, thinking it would just be an adventure after college.
When he first started getting offers, he invited Abbey along with him, but they agreed she would only go if they were married (because as he says, clubs treat wives much differently than girlfriends, “taking care of her just like they would me.”).
After a month of engagement, they got married on McGrew’s graduation day and left a week later when she graduated from WVU.
“It was a really fast-paced ordeal,” McGrew said. “We got it done though in my backyard, and I guess that’s history.”
This summer, the McGrews are back in the Mountain State, and Tanner is preparing for his first TBT run with Best Virginia. He almost competed in TBT 2021 with a team of former stars from the MEC, but they didn’t qualify.
His move to Best Virginia shouldn’t be too rough as he does have a rapport with many of the players already on the squad. In 2017-18, he shared a roster with Juwan Staten at Saint-Charmond in France as the only two Americans in the club that season.
McGrew also has experience with other former Mountaineer stars, like Tarik Phillip and Jevon Carter, the latter of whom he played against in the NBA Summer League.
Even beyond the regulation games, though, McGrew has made it a point to compete with the Best Virginia guys. Like teammate Jamel Morris, he is one of the local non-WVU alumni that regularly practices and plays with former Mountaineer stars, and he takes pride in competing with Kevin Jones.
“It’s good practice for me, and I get the opportunity to test myself a little bit and get better,” McGrew said. “As often as I can, I’m in the gym with them. They’re kind of my connection up here, they’re how I get in and how I get my work in in the summer. I do as much as I can to be around them.”