C.B. McGrath is one of the best players to come out of Topeka and has enjoyed plenty of success after graduating from Topeka West in 1994.
The former Kansas High School Player of the Year went on to play at the University of Kansas (1994-98) and is currently an assistant coach at North Carolina, where he has spent the last 11 seasons winning national titles in 2005 and 2009.
(C.B. McGrath, right, with Roy Williams – Photo courtesy: Jeffrey Camarati/UNC)
Although McGrath, 38, has a busy schedule he still tried to get back to Topeka once a year and visit his parents who still live in his hometown, which helped vault a career in basketball.
McGrath, a point guard, moved up to the varsity team as a freshman six games into the 1990-91 season, which surprised him because he didn’t know any of the varsity coaches.
With McGrath starting the next three seasons, the Chargers won 19 games each year under head coach John Oestreich averaging about seven points a game as a sophomore, then going 19-3 as a junior averaging about 12 points a game and 19-4 as a senior averaging 19 points a game leading the Chargers into the state tournament before falling to Wichita Northeast.
“I really enjoyed playing for him, learning the game of basketball, learning quite a bit and it enabled me to have a chance to play at KU,” McGrath said.
He teamed up with backcourt mate Tim Payne, a fellow first-team all-city pick in 1994, to help lead the Chargers to go undefeated at home in three consecutive years winning 27 straight. McGrath also played with standouts Scott Peterson, Jonathan Payne, and Scott Kauffman.
“I was a true point guard and I did have some good teammates around me, some guys who could shoot the ball, some good post players, and I think that enabled me to be successful and obviously win games,” McGrath said. “If you’re winning games, people are paying more attention and if you’re doing some good things on the court, that always helps, but I do think everyone sort of bought in and we did everything we could to win every game. I think those things helped more than anything.
“In Topeka, it’s hard, there’s no national exposure and you really didn’t get into the AAU scene back then and I guess to get the name out across the state and the type of awards that I was given, I have to give a lot of credit to the team, wins, and coach Oestreich. I never would have thought I was going to be the Kansas State Player of the Year as a senior because they usually give it to guys who score 35 points a game and I never really looked to score. I had to score more as a senior because we lost people in the past that scored some points for us, but I just always wanted to be the point guard that made the pass.”
McGrath, who stood 5-foot-11, received offers from North Texas and Wichita State, but didn’t get very involved with the recruiting process with those schools because they weren’t winning and McGrath couldn’t envision himself a part of their programs.
He was likely headed to Washburn if he didn’t receive a phone call from then-Kansas head coach Roy Williams following his senior year.
“I wanted to play where I had a chance to win some games and stay relatively close to home, it’s what I knew,” McGrath recalled.
Williams attended McGrath’s sub-state final game as a senior against Leavenworth and former KU coach Matt Doherty attended one of his practices. They wanted McGrath to walk-on at KU, which he agreed to do so. The staff was holding a scholarship for a player, who didn’t qualify academically, which opened up a scholarship for McGrath prior to his freshman year.
“That helped my parents, it didn’t really have a bearing how they treated me or being a part of the team, but it made paying for college not a problem,” McGrath said.
Just like he was used to at Topeka West, the winning continued at Kansas winning four conference titles going 25-6, 29-5, 34-2, and 35-4 in his four years, which also included a perfect 58-0 at Allen Fieldhouse while playing with KU stars Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, and Raef LaFrentz. McGrath was a reserve throughout his career playing in 112 career games, scoring 82 points with 113 assists and 35 steals.
“I grew up a Kansas fan, a diehard ever since I remember watching basketball,” McGrath said. “I remember watching Kelly Knight, Carl Henry and all of those guys back in the day, and just getting there was sort of living a dream. You don’t really know what to expect when you’re going in there, you’ve got some thoughts and some ideas of what might transpire and what it might be like, but actually living it is a lot better.”
McGrath, a fan of math and science, didn’t know he wanted to go into coaching. He got his degree in human biology, but during his junior year of college, he knew he wanted to do something in athletics.
“It’s what I knew, it’s what I felt comfortable with, and what I thought I could be successful at,” McGrath said. “And my classes, and most everybody’s classes, were relatively boring. I just wasn’t into classes that much. I was going to get my degree and finish out, but I told coach Williams I wanted to do something in athletics.”
After his senior year, he remained focused on a career in athletics and got an internship with Nike, worked some basketball camps, and stuck around at KU to get his Master’s. Doherty then left the program and Williams offered a position to McGrath to join the staff.
“Right place at the right time,” McGrath said. “Obviously I did some things while I was playing for him to impress him to think that I could work for him. Needless to say, there’s not a short list of people that would want to be on the staff at Kansas at any time, let alone at that time. I was fortunate enough to get that job and have been with him ever since.”
Williams left Kansas in 2003 for North Carolina and McGrath joined him on the staff, first as a director of basketball operations before being named an assistant coach, where he’s considered a good tactician and recruiter.
“I think coaching is fun,” McGrath said. “I’ve always been around basketball, basketball has always been fun to me. I like the recruiting aspect of going to watch a kid play, I like to see kids compete against each other, I like to get to know the kids, their background, their families, and then moving from recruiting them to coaching them in college, just seeing their progression as a player, as a person, and then when they get done playing, what are they doing these days. You just sort of get involved in their life and try to be a good influence on them and teach them to think, teach them to grow up and those sorts of things. It’s just fun and I’ve had the opportunity to be at Kansas and North Carolina, two of the basketball pillars of all-time so most people would say that’s why you like it so much, and that might have something to do with it, but there’s a lot of pressure at those places too.”
The Tar Heels begin their 2014-15 season on Nov. 14 against NC Central following a 24-10 season.
“We’re excited, we like our guys,” McGrath said. “They’re working hard, a great bunch to be around. We think we added some pieces with our freshmen and we have a lot of returners coming back and they seem to be a real cohesive group and they really enjoy being with each other. We’ve got Marcus Paige, who had a great year last year, a preseason All-American, a great leader, everybody looks up to him and respects to him so that makes it nice to have someone with leadership qualities. Through the first couple weeks of practice everything is going well, we’re excited. We have a tough schedule as always, the ACC has added some teams, it’s going to be a tough conference to play in, but that just gets you more prepared to play at the end of the year when you’re playing those teams in the NCAA tournament.”