Brenna McGuire: Reflections on Lineage
January 4, 2006
by Vic Dorr, Jr.
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Brenna McGuire misses her grandfather badly. She wants you to know that. She also wants you to know why.
Not because he was a celebrity. Not because he once might have been the most recognized and most popular man in Wisconsin. Not because he was the championship basketball coach. No, McGuire misses her grandfather for a far more compelling reason: because he was, well, her grandfather.
McGuire, the University of Virginia’s sharpshooting junior wing guard, is the granddaughter of the late Al McGuire, the former Marquette University men’s coach and NBC color commentator. Many regard Al McGuire, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., as a legend. Some regard him as an American icon. Brenna does not.
“I only knew him as `Grandpa,'” said Brenna, who was 16 when her grandfather succumbed to leukemia in January 2001. “I never saw him coach. I remember seeing him on TV a few times. I’d think: `Hey, cool – Grandpa’s on TV.’ But to me, really, none of that stuff mattered. The only thing that mattered to me was: He was Grandpa. And believe me, he was one of the best grandfathers any kid could ever hope to have.”
Brenna will visit her grandfather’s house – in a manner of speaking – when the Cavaliers travel to Milwaukee for tonight’s nonconference date with Marquette. The game will be played in the 4,000-seat Al McGuire Center.
The moment will be undeniably special, said Brenna, whose 107 career 3-pointers rank ninth on the Cavaliers’ career list. “It’s going to be very exciting – not just for me, but for everyone in our family. I mean, how many times do you get a chance to play in a building named after your grandfather?” She has but one regret: “I just wish he could be here to see it. That would have meant so much to him.” Physical absence notwithstanding, she said she is certain that “somehow, some way, he’ll be watching.”
How does one explain Al McGuire to 20-somethings who arrived too late to see him – or hear him – in action? Imagine an individual as glib as Pete Gillen, as competitive as Gary Williams, as enthusiastic as Dick Vitale, as outspoken as Geno Auriemma and as likable as Bill Raftery. McGuire won 295 games in 13 seasons at Marquette. His last game was his best. He walked away from coaching after defeating North Carolina in the 1977 NCAA tournament final.
McGuire was no less successful as a color commentator. He entertained and educated a generation of basketball fans with his sidewalks-of-New-York personality. He created his own vocabulary, much of which survives to this day. An on-court disaster was “Dunkirk.” A tense game was “a white-knuckler.” Referees were “zebras.” A wide-bodied post player was “an aircraft carrier.” Helpless opponents were “cupcakes.”
Brenna, of course, is aware of all of this. Aware, but hardly awed. She said McGuire scored his most memorable points – with her, at least – by simply loving his grandchildren.
“Just being with him was such a wonderful experience. His humor was unbelievable – so quick and so sharp. And the thing was, he really seemed to want to spend time with you. When he talked to you, he was focused strictly on you. It made you feel very special.”
Brenna and her two older brothers weren’t the only individuals captivated by McGuire’s roguish Irish charm. “I think he knew everybody in Wisconsin – or maybe it was just that everybody in Wisconsin knew him,” Brenna said. “He’d pick us up” during the summer “and take us on these really neat adventures. Maybe we’d visit a farm . . . maybe we’d ride the horses or go fishing.”
One such childhood excursion – to go horseback riding – remains vivid in Brenna’s memory. So warm was the rancher’s hospitality that Brenna assumed that he and her grandfather were good friends. Such was apparently not the case. Said Brenna: “We said, `Where did you meet him? How do you know him?’ And [McGuire] said, `Well, I don’t really know him. He used to come to some of our games.’
“I think that’s when we started to figure out that [McGuire] was a really big deal in a lot of people’s eyes. The thing we couldn’t figure out – until we got a little older – was how he became one.”
Did the man who was so good with language ever offer his granddaughter any advice – for basketball or for life? Brenna thought for a moment. “I can’t remember any particular words,” she said. “But I’ll always remember that he cared enough to want to spend time with us.”
Contact staff writer Vic Dorr Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 649-6442.
Food: fruitIce cream: vanillaAthlete: Michael JordanMovie: Dumb & DumberTV Show: The OC
I love to cook …pasta.
Three words that best describe me are … personable, caring, generous.
My advise to a young athlete is … to never give up.
One thing I always pack for road trips is … my iPod.
I chose Virginia, because … of the academics and the competitive league.
My goals for the season are … to win the ACC Championship.