The 6A Conference boys basketball state championship game had just ended, and Tempe Corona del Sol coach Neil MacDonald was slowly making his way through the handshake line, congratulating Chandler Basha’s players.
But when MacDonald got to Basha senior center Gabe McGlothan, he stopped, put his arm around McGlothan’s neck and pulled him in close for a few words.
“He’s a special kid,” MacDonald said a few minutes later.
The praise intrigued me. MacDonald wasn’t talking about the 21 points McGlothan scored or how he dominated the game on both ends of the floor. His words were for the person, not the player.
So, I called Basha coach Mike Grothaus and asked about McGlothan. Here’s what he said:
“Honest to goodness, he’s the best kid I’ve coached in my life. He’s one of a kind. He’s just special.”
Even more intriguing. So, I called McGlothan. We talked for about 10 minutes on the phone. Not one of them was spent on basketball. Instead, we talked about service and honor and a grandfather he admired and wants to emulate.
Mostly, what I wanted to know was this: Why does a teenager decide to enroll in the United States Military Academy at West Point? Why does he commit the next 10 years of his life – McGlothan will attend prep school next year before starting his four years at West Point and then five-year military commitment – when there are far less demanding paths?
Three reasons, McGlothan told me: He wants to take the Army basketball team to a whole new level (OK, maybe 10 seconds were spent on basketball). He wants to proudly show off a West Point degree. And this: “I think it’s a real high honor to be able to serve your country. I think it’s part of my calling.”
Which brings us to McGlothan’s grandfather, Wes Kriewald. Kriewald died when McGlothan was young but not before the two became close. McGlothan admired the man Kriewald was: Quiet, funny, always expecting the best of you. Kriewald served his country, too, as a mechanical engineer in the Korean War.
When an Army recruiter spoke to McGlothan’s Arizona history class at Basha during his junior year, McGlothan thought about his grandfather and “how he turned out.” After some deliberation, he decided on Oct. 29 to commit to West Point. It was, unbeknownst to him, his grandfather’s birthday. Oh, he plans to major in mechanical engineering, as well.
None of it, the commitment, the sacrifice, the wish to emulate his grandfather, surprises Grothaus.
“He is just such a well-rounded kid,” Grothaus said, adding that McGlothan not only is one of the best basketball players in the state but also is Basha’s student-body president. “He’s outgoing, with a great personality. He’s honest to goodness a kid I enjoy having conversations with beyond basketball.”
Still, a 10-year commitment. That’s forever to a teenager. But McGlothan sees beyond those 10 years. He’s wise enough, even at this young age, to see a lifetime.
“No matter what happens once you go through this, you’re basically set for life,” he said. “That’s kind of a nice feeling. Sure, there’s real uncertainty. I don’t know what it’s really going to be like. It does make me scared a little bit. But that uncertainty also gives me joy. I can’t wait. Sometimes the best things come when you’re not expecting them.”
How many 18-year-olds do you know who talk like that?
“You just feel better when you’re around him,” Grothaus said. “He’s just destined for great things. He really is.”
6A Conference boys basketball state championship, Arizona Interscholastic Association, basketball, Chandler Basha, Chandler Basha coach Mike Grothaus, Gabe McGlothan, High school boys basketball, Tempe Corona del Sol, Tempe Corona del Sol coach Neil MacDonald, Wes Kriewald, West Point, AZCentral, Basha High School (Chandler AZ), Basketball, Chandler High School (Chandler AZ), Tempe High School (Tempe AZ), Gallery