The Roots of T-Mac
When asked if he would describe Auburndale, Florida as a ‘small town’ during a 2001 interview with Sean Deveney, Tracy McGrady thought that the question about where he grew up might not be serious.
“Are-you kidding?” T-Mac replied. “It’s real small. Not too many people there. But it’s a friendly town, a very friendly town. They treat me like anyone else.”
That might be the difference between home and anywhere else for a player that has reached a high level of celebrity. The world knows him as T-Mac, the basketball player, but in Auburndale he is Tracy McGrady, the guy that grew up on “The Hill” and continues to return to his roots to give back to the community where he grew up.
From Tim Povtak article that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel in September of 2000:“This may sound kind of redneckish, but I think everyone in Polk County feels like they know him,” said Andy Beymer, an Auburndale policeman and the school’s resource officer. “And that’s because everyone is pulling for him. He never forgot where he came from. Every time I see him now, he says: `Don’t arrest me.’ And we get a good laugh.”Beymer inherited an office on campus that previously belonged to Rita Jarrett, the school’s former guidance counselor. And on the wall of that office are two McGrady signatures, dated 1997 and 1998, his first and second seasons in Toronto. She had written him regularly while he was away.”When I moved out, I made him [Beymer] promise that he would never paint that wall because of Tracy’s autograph. It’s like part of Auburndale history. They have to paint around it now every year,” said Jarrett, who has moved into a different position at the school. “When Tracy was in school, he was one of those kids who knew what he wanted — become a professional athlete. But I always told him, `Make other plans because only one in a million can reach that goal.’ He never made those plans. He never needed to.”
On McGrady’s Hawks.com player page you will see his high school listed as Mount Zion Christian Academy, but it was as an Auburndale Bloodhound that Tracy first turned heads. He played for three years at Auburndale High School, averaging 16.2 ppg as a sophomore and an impressive 26.1 ppg and 12 rpg as a junior.
“He had 60 game dunks in his junior year,” his Auburndale coach Ty Willis told the Lakeland Ledger in 1997, “I’d watch the NBA and think, ‘I saw Tracy do something like that yesterday.’ ”
Tracy would eventually accept a scholarship to Mt. Zion for his senior season and lead his team to a #2 ranking in the USA Today High School poll, but his arrival on the national radar came the summer before. T-Mac was not included in most of the t0p-500 rankings of prep recruits before attending an elite Adidas camp. After a week against the nation’s best recruits (a class that included Lamar Odom and Keyon Dooling
Bob Bender, now in his eighth year as a Hawks assistant, was the head coach at the University of Washington when he was scouting that camp.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dominate quite like [McGrady] did,” Bender has told the Seattle Times. “Every time he was on the court, he dominated. Literally, he took over the show every day, every period … You knew you were watching something special.”
The rest is history… including two scoring titles, five All-NBA seasons, and over 18,000 career points. What sometimes flies under the radar is that McGrady still maintains strong connections with Auburndale. Along with donating athletic equipment on an annual basis, T-Mac holds a tournament each year at Auburndale High School’s gym that has been renamed Tracy McGrady Gymnasium.
So as the Hawks battle the Magic tonight, don’t be surprised to see a strong contingent make the 30 or 40-minute drive up from Auburndale to see the hometown hero in action. As high as McGrady’s star has risen, he has never forgotten his roots.