Sports

McMahon led D-I turnaround at EWU

When reflecting on his basketball career at Eastern Washington University, Ronn McMahon will occasionally wonder if he might have been a bit too unselfish.

But at the risk of drowning the otherwise pleasant memories of his three-year stay in Cheney with a wave of second-guessing, he refuses to dwell on the matter.

“If I look back at it on an individual basis, you know, should I have shot the ball more and sort of advanced my own career? Probably,” said the 43-year-old McMahon, who lives in Tacoma, where he serves as vice president of YMCA operations in Pierce and Kitsap counties. “But I never look back with any regrets, because I played with a great group of guys at Eastern and developed a lot of my lifelong friendships there.”

McMahon arrived in Cheney as a junior transfer from Salt Lake Community College in fall 1987 during a period of turmoil for the Eagles’ athletic department. Eastern, after deciding to step up and compete at the NCAA Division I level, was in just its second year as a member of the Big Sky Conference, and critics of the move were still in full chorus.

“Talk of getting out the Division I and Big Sky was pretty prevalent on campus,” said McMahon, who broke his foot that fall and redshirted during the 1987-88 season when the Eagles went 6-21 overall and 2-14 in the Big Sky under coach Bob Hofman.

So McMahon and his teammates went about trying to silence at least some of those D-I doubters – which they did by posting an 18-11 overall record and an 11-5 mark in the Big Sky in 1989-90. The Eagles came within a second of landing an NCAA tournament berth that winter, losing to Idaho on a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the title game of the conference tournament.

“It was a great experience all around,” McMahon said of that season. “When I was a junior, we’d have, maybe, 200 people in the stands. But that year, when we played Idaho, people were standing in line outside to get in and the place was packed.”

McMahon’s contributions to Eastern’s turnaround, while hardly of a headline-grabbing nature, were considerable. With David Peed and several other teammates more than willing to shoulder the scoring load, the 5-foot-9 McMahon was content with running the offense from his point guard position and doing all of the little things that are so essential to success on the basketball court.

In his two seasons years in Cheney, he came up with 225 steals, a number that still stands as EWU’s career record. During the 1989-90 season, he finished with a NCAA Division-I high average of 4.48 steals per game and still owns 12 of the school’s top 24 single-game steals totals, including a school-record nine against Portland on Dec. 15, 1988.

In addition, he finished his D-I college career with 431 assists – the second most in school history – and established a single-game school record in that category by handing out 18 as a junior against UC Irvine. And despite not putting up any jaw-dropping scoring numbers, McMahon earned a spot on the all-Big Sky first team as a senior and went on to play professionally in the World Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association.

“I only played two games (for Jacksonville, Fla.,) in the WBL, and never got paid,” McMahon recalled of short-lived league that put height restriction of 6-5 on its players. “The league promised to pay guys, but there was no feasible business plan to sustain it. It was not a good experience.”

The CBA, where McMahon spent a season with the Yakima Sun Kings, was different, however. It was on more solid financial footing and gave McMahon a chance to test himself against higher-caliber players.

“If you can survive in the CBA as a 5-9 white guy, then you’ve given yourself some legitimacy in the pros,” he said.

His stay in Yakima was shortened, however, by a call from the coach of the Canadian national team, who had learned from McMahon’s Canadian-born father about his son’s dual citizenship and was interesting in having him try out.

McMahon made the team and spent parts of the next five years traveling the world and playing in several prestigious tournaments, including 1992 Tournament of the Americas in Portland, where the Canadians faced the United States’ original “Dream Team” that included former Gonzaga University and NBA legend John Stockton.

He later went on to play for Marathon Oil, a traveling AAU team, and made additional trips to Korea and Europe before giving up organized basketball to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife, Lisa – whom he met at Eastern – and their children, Rachel, 17, and Sam, 12.

It was his wife’s pursuit of a law degree that eventually landed the family in Tacoma, where McMahon first became involved in the YMCA while assisting with the basketball program at Tacoma Community College. He has worked for the Y for 12 years, having served in several different capacities, including that of marketing director, where he put his marketing degree from Eastern to full use.

McMahon remains active in sports and still plays recreational basketball and soccer. In addition, he is one of the nation’s top-ranked squash players in his age group and, at one time, was ranked 12th nationally among all professionals.

“When I first got to the Y, I started playing squash, and I turned out to be a natural,” he said. “I played a little bit of tennis at Eastern, so I had some racket background. And I found out in a hurry that being 5-9 – as long as I was quick – was an advantage, instead of the disadvantage it was in basketball.”

McMahon has also been a semi-regular competitor in Hoopfest, the 3-on-3 street basketball tournament that will be held June 27-28 in downtown Spokane. He will return this year after uniting with former EWU teammates Dan Dieffenback, John Garrison and Greg Olson to win their age bracket in 2008.

“But I’m out on the waivers wire, still looking for a team, because ours broke up,” said McMahon, who also helps coach his son’s Hoopfest team, which is a two-time defending champion in its division. “I might see if I can get back on a team in the 6-foot-and-under division.

“It’s kind of funny. I used to get calls, starting early in the year, from people wanting me to play on their Hoopfest team. But I don’t get those calls anymore. It must have something to do with getting old.”

Still, McMahon has no plans to curtail his recreational pursuits.

“I still love playing sports,” he said. “And as long as I can keep moving, I’ll keep doing it.”



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