If you were watching the Jan. 21 men’s college basketball game between then-10th ranked University of Louisville and then-12th ranked Florida State University on ESPN, you might have seen a familiar face.
Ryan McMahon, the former Cardinal Mooney basketball standout, is a redshirt freshman at Louisville, where he plays under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. He only got four minutes of playing time in that game, but in the Cardinals’ next game, against the University of Pittsburgh, McMahon got 15 minutes on the court, and was second on the team with 15 points in a big win, hitting five of seven shots beyond the arc. On Jan. 29, against North Carolina State University, McMahon got in the game early and played 11 minutes total despite some foul trouble.
It’s remarkable that the 6-foot freshman from our area is getting real playing time for a team now ranked sixth in the nation. I originally wanted to talk to McMahon and ask him what his experience has been like. But red tape made that impossible on deadline, so instead, I talked to three people with varying perspectives and knowledge of McMahon’s career: An analyst, a coach and a father.
Basketball legend Dick Vitale called that game between Louisville and Florida State, and vividly remembers watching McMahon while at Cardinal Mooney.
“I was so intrigued with him,” Vitale said. “I went to see him one time in a big game against a team that had a former player visiting, Antonio Blakeney (now at Louisiana State University). I wanted to see Blakeney more than I wanted to see McMahon, but I went to see the game and I was blown away by his (McMahon’s) shooting ability. So much so was I intrigued that I went to see him a second time, then again a third time.”
Paraphrasing, Vitale said Pitino believes McMahon has a chance to be a very good player for the program down the road, not just a spot-filler. He’s transitioning from a catch-and-shoot two guard into a legitimate point guard, and that transition takes time, but the school is enamored with his skills that cannot be taught: His outside shot, and his willingness to work hard.
That determination to get better stems from McMahon’s time playing for the Bay City Ballers, a youth travel team coached by John Jones. Jones is self-admittedly a demanding coach, and he said McMahon’s style didn’t mesh with his philosophy when the guard initially joined the Ballers.
“He was a little more flashy than I would like my players,” Jones said. “Ryan (McMahon) and I would do battle over that, because he would turn the ball over and I would pull him out and he would get so upset with me. He had come from a program where he was playing the entire game. When he joined my team, he wasn't playing as much as he was used to. But you know, Ryan never quit. He never quit. He just dealt with it and he continued to work hard. The second season that he came back, Ryan was a team leader. He was a totally different kid. He set out to show me that, 'I can do it, coach.'
“I've had nothing but the utmost respect for that young man. Ryan answered everything I could ever ask for.”
There are two people McMahon lists on his Louisville profile when asked about who has had the greatest influence on his athletic career. One is Jones. The other is his father, Dave McMahon, an assistant coach at Cardinal Mooney.
Dave McMahon understandably did not want to speak for his son, but said that “his experience (at Louisville) has been a very good one,” and that he has been extremely happy playing basketball there.
“Anybody at any level, whether it's D-II or D-I, they will learn that the next level is a tough level,” McMahon said. “But when you're talking about one of the toughest leagues in the country, one of the storied programs in the country and a demanding teacher and you love what you do, it's pretty cool.”
Dave McMahon believes that year coming off the bench for Jones’ team helped prepare his son for what he is experiencing at Louisville, calling it “a very difficult path to go through, but a necessary one,” and actually noting that time as his favorite memory of Ryan McMahon’s career (thus far).
All three men voiced similar thoughts on Ryan McMahon’s future. With time and continued hard work, he can become a very good player at Louisville, and it appears the coaching staff feels the same away.
Personally, though, I think Vitale said it best.
“He. Can. Flat. Out. Shoot. The. Rock,” he said.