Where’s Wally

Miami Quarterly, Sports Section

Issue Date: 12/13/10

It’s been nearly two years since Wally Szczerbiak’s retirement from the NBA, and everyone is asking the same question: Where’s Wally?

Miami University Men’s Head Basketball Coach Charlie Coles: “He’s definitely playing a lot of golf.”

 Miami Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Jason Grunkemeyer: “He’s a great golfer.”

 Wally Szczerbiak: “I play a lot of golf. That’s my new passion.”

But for Szczerbiak, retirement isn’t all long, sunny days out on the course. In fact, a new opportunity in sports broadcasting is bringing him back to the college town where he once ruled the court.

A RedHawk Hero

In March of 1999, copies of Sports Illustrated were flying around Miami’s campus. The front cover featured a picture of Szczerbiak, wearing his number 32, red, white and black jersey, while attacking the hoop. His 49 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists carried the RedHawks to a 59-58 win over the University of Washington. Miami, the underdog, shocked the nation. Even with a loss in the third round, that was the first time Miami collected two wins in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Szczerbiak entered the season marked by Sports Illustrated as “the best all-around player in America,” and lived up to the hype.

He returned to Miami from the tournament a hero, named First Team All-American and MAC Player of the Year. He finished the season with 775 points, the Miami record for most points scored in a season, and his career with 1,847 points, the second highest in Miami’s history.

To Oxford and Beyond

As a senior in high school in Long Island, N.Y., the idea of attending a college in Ohio did not seem very likely. But Ohio wanted Szczerbiak; the RedHawks saw a talent in him they could not pass up. “The coaches at the time really recruited him hard,” says Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Jason Grunkemeyer.

Coincidentally, Szczerbiak’s cousin Tiffany Shea had just graduated from Miami and she says was delighted Szczerbiak had an interest in the school. Like his cousin and many other students, he was wooed by Miami’s charm. “I came to visit the school and fell in love,” Szczerbiak says. “Right then, I signed on the dotted line.”

Szczerbiak loved Miami and Miami loved him back. “I am proud to have coached Wally,” says Men’s Head Basketball Coach Charlie Coles. “He carried himself well, always did a good job, and he always had a smile on his face.” In fact, Coles claims Szczerbiak only had one bad practice in his four years as a RedHawk. “I know it’s hard to believe,” Coles says, “but a few days after the practice I said, ‘Hey, Wally, you really weren’t yourself the other day’ and he said ‘Coach, I stayed up all night studying for a test and had a tough time during practice.'”

Besides being the star of the basketball team, Szczerbiak’s four years at Miami were like those of any other student.”He was as good at playing as he was at being a normal guy,” Grunkemeyer recalls, having played with Szczerbiak for three years. “He had many interests other than basketball.”

Szczerbiak says he made many friends during his freshman year, including his college sweetheart and later wife, Shannon Ward.”They dated all four years and she came to all the games,” Coles says.

Szczerbiak lived in the dorms throughout his four years and majored in marketing. On the weekends, he and his friends threw house parties and went to CJ’s bar, he says.”We’d sneak out of class, play video games, golf in the spring, and hang out with friends and watch our favorite TV shows,” he says. Szczerbiak says after playing in the NBA for 10 years, the great times with his friends are what he missed the most about college.”It was fun having him around,” Coles says, “and even more fun watching him as he joined his pro career.”

After his basketball career at Miami, Szczerbiak was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the sixth overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. In 2002, he was selected to the Western Conference All-Star Team. In a 10-year span after graduating, he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Boston Celtics, the Seattle SuperSonics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. After suffering a series of knee complications and surgeries, he faced an early retirement in 2009.

A New Chapter

When he first retired, Szczerbiak did not want to leave the game altogether, so he played basketball with friends about twice a week. With continuing knee complications, Szczerbiak was prohibited from strenuous activities by his doctor. “It’s hard,” Szczerbiak says. “I honestly miss it, but I have to turn a page in the book and move on.”

So, he found a new and slightly less physical passion: golf.

In addition to golfing, he is also working as a broadcaster on the CBS College Sports channel and the MSG Network. “I want to stay in the game without having to play,” Szczerbiak says. “It’s a lot of fun going back to the college atmosphere,” he says. “It brings back a lot of memories.”Szczerbiak says his number one focus is his family.”I’m now focusing on family and with the broadcasting it will definitely help keep the wheels rolling,” he says.

Szczerbiak, Shannon and their three children, Maximus, Annabella, and Amberly, recently moved to Columbus, where they plan to “enjoy the fruits of the hard work of playing in the NBA,” he explains. Szczerbiak says he now looks forward to new adventures like teaching his kids how to play basketball – “if they want to play,” he says.

Being closer to Miami, Szczerbiak says he plans to broadcast some Miami games live and support the team as much as he can. “We’d certainly like for Wally to come back,” Coles says. “He’d be a good influence on the team.”

With Szczerbiak back in the picture, Miami University can become Wally’s World once again.