It’s 1 a.m. in the tiny British territory of Gibraltar and Jason McMahon is still two hours from getting into bed.
He knows he has to get up in the morning for his telecommunications job, but he’ll worry about that later. Right now, he’s focused on one thing.
UConn — his favorite team — is playing South Carolina in the Huskies’ final top-15 matchup of the season. It’s a big game for the Huskies having already lost two games this season, and McMahon is eager to see how UConn performs.
Not only is McMahon watching for the action, but he’s also hoping to catch a glimpse of something that’s traveled over 3,500 miles and landed in the hands of UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
The wood clipboard that the coaching legend scrawls plays on throughout the game was designed and handcrafted by McMahon himself. It has traveled from his home in Gibraltar, a territory of about 35,000 people on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, and arrived in Connecticut just days before the Huskies’ big game.
“It’s a neat thing,” Auriemma, who met McMahon in 2017, said. “It’s a neat little memento and a nice gift from a fan. UConn basketball goes a long way around the world, so I felt pretty appreciative that he’d go out of his way to do something like that.”
Auriemma and his staff have been using coaching boards made by McMahon for the past two seasons, which is when the first of many boards arrived in Storrs. Each one is a labor of love from a man who’s coached basketball in some capacity for over 30 years and currently coaches youth programs for the Gibraltar Amateur Basketball Association.
McMahon has been an avid fan of UConn and its head coach for a few years, admiring Auriemma’s coaching style and success. What was originally intended as a useful gift from coach to coach, to McMahon’s surprise and delight, has become a source of pride each time he turns on a Huskies game.
“Knowing that Geno uses my products, you can imagine how happy and overwhelmed I am when I see that every week on TV,” McMahon said.
Seeing a Hall of Fame coach use his board means a lot because despite having a website and a registered business, making these is a hobby that McMahon doesn’t really profit from. He’s given away quite a few boards to coaches in Gibraltar and Spain, as well as bringing an estimated 20 boards to UConn’s coaching staff as gifts when he visited Connecticut a year ago.
Each board takes five to six hours to make, McMahon said, and he handles everything from the graphic design to the sanding of the wood. While he makes plastic and aluminum boards, wood boards inspired by the floors of basketball arenas are one of his most recent creations. The boards UConn has received have the Husky logo, and each member of the staff has a personalized version.
“I think what’s [really] meaningful is he made a trip over here and wanted to experience a game,” associate head coach Chris Dailey said. “Just for someone to take that much time to make something for us — and he personalizes each of them for each coach — it just means a lot. He’s so thoughtful and really a nice person.”
In 2010, McMahon scoured the internet looking for a coach’s board with the most recent floor markings for a tournament he was coaching in where the 3-point line had been moved back. When he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he took matters into his own hands and made a board for himself. Interested in design as a young boy in Gibraltar and later becoming proficient in graphic design programs, McMahon quickly realized he could create a high quality board.
The first recipient of one of his creations was Aíto’ García Reneses, a nine-time Spanish Liga ACB champion coach. Other coaches began asking Reneses where he got his board, and McMahon realized he was making something people might be interested in buying. He then created Coachboards.com, where he offers already designed or customizable boards.
or his wood boards, McMahon goes to a local carpentry shop and selects the materials, opting for pine and marble wood. Even though he would like to make a living selling boards, he’s so passionate about the product that he’ll tell coaches to send boards back to be refurbished instead of buying a new one.
“The thing about the board is I don’t like it to be mistreated because at one time that board was living. It was a tree. It had life,” McMahon said of his wood boards. “I don’t like to throw it away. Maybe it’s silly, but I like to give it a new life.”
McMahon’s boards are constantly evolving as he finds new ways to simplify the coaching tool. The newest board Auriemma received has a spot for both the eraser and pen to fit into the board so coaches don’t have to keep reaching into their pockets. As McMahon continues tweaking his boards, Auriemma will always be the first person to get a sample, he said.
A little over two years ago McMahon, who mostly watched the European league and the NBA, wasn’t even aware of the UConn coach’s existence. Then, a friend and fellow coach showed him one of Auriemma’s coaching clinics on YouTube and the rest is history. McMahon proudly sports UConn apparel, hung out at the Huskies practice and has another trip to Connecticut planned for November.
Until his next trip, McMahon will continue to watch Huskies games and take pride in the fact that the product he so carefully crafted is in the hands of his idol.
“For someone who’s Catholic, his dream is to go to Rome and meet the Pope,” McMahon said. “For someone like me who’s a coach, who’s your idol? Who would you like to meet? I already met the person who’s my idol. For me, it’s Geno Auriemma.”
Kelli Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.