TAYLORSVILLE — It’s fourth period at Eisenhower Junior High School.
More than 40 students are in Mr. Ryan Tommer’s concert band classroom in E5, as the eighth- and ninth-graders rehearse for a little bit before the guest speaker arrives.
After a busy morning of practice, lifting, shooting — plus a team meeting — one of the newest members of the Salt Lake City Stars G League team surprised the group around 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
At 6-foot-8, weighing 250 pounds, Tanner McGrew certainly has the height of a basketball player, but once he shared his journey, many were surprised that music was actually his bread and butter to get to college.
“We are so glad to have Tanner with us today,” Tommer said. “I feel that it is great for students to have a role model in music and in life, and Tanner was a wonderful example of how music can serve you no matter what career you pursue or what you do with your life.”
Basketball helped McGrew go from a walk-on at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan College to playing overseas in Australia, France and Denmark before finding his way to the G League with the Memphis Hustle and now the Stars.
After walking on with the Hustle as a local tryout player, the Stars acquired McGrew on Jan. 21 in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 G League Draft. In seven games, he’s putting up 14.1 points while grabbing 5.1 boards on 44.6 percent shooting — including a 25-point performance against Long Island on Jan. 25.
Salt Lake City will host the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Thursday at Bruin Arena, then the Santa Cruz Warriors at Vivint Arena at 7 p.m. Friday night
“I think it’s a good fit,” said Stars coach Martin Schiller. “He can pick-and-pop very well, he can shoot and he can pass. In a way, he’s in the mold of Georges Niang and Tyler Cavanaugh.”
However, music was one of his first loves as he picked up a trombone in the sixth grade.
“Whatever instrument I’m playing is my favorite instrument and whatever music is playing is my favorite music, too,” McGrew said. “As a basketball player you’ve got to listen to a lot of different kinds of things.”
In fact, before walking on to the basketball team at West Virginia Wesleyan College as a sophomore, he initially accepted a trombone scholarship to the school. It wasn’t until his college coach Patrick Beilein, a previous Jazz assistant, discovered him shooting around in the recreational center on campus that he decided to pursue basketball on that level. And it was a good decision as he ended up earning All-Mountain East Conference First Team Honors in 2015 and 2016 while also leading NCAA Division II in rebounding with 12.4 points as a senior.
He still credits his former band director Danny Williams at Buckhannon-Upshur High School in Buckhannon, West Virginia with developing his talent as a musician.
Even as busy as his schedule is nowadays playing in the G League, he feels he could someday see himself returning to music in some capacity, which was evident in his most recent visit to Mr. Tommer’s classroom.
For now, he's focused on hoops, though.
“I don’t have the NBA salary, so I don’t have the cushion of ‘Oh, I can chill out and do what I want,’ so I’m going to have to have a job and a career and I love music,” said McGrew, who has a degree in music education.