Those UConn fans who complain how difficult it can be to attend a game at Gampel Pavilion so far removed from most of the state’s larger cities and towns should take heed of Jason McMahon’s passion.
McMahon’s third annual trek to a UConn game this past season took him more than half a day because he lives in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory at the Southern end of the Iberian Peninsula off of the coast of Spain.
McMahon drove an hour and a half from Gibraltar to Spain, took a 2 ½-hour flight from Malaga, Spain to London, then flew 7 ½ hours from London to Boston.
After spending a night in Boston and going to a Celtics game, he drove two more hours to Connecticut, all for the love of basketball, or more specifically, UConn women’s basketball.
The 48-year-old telecommunications technician and service provider spends much of his time away from work trying to make his mark in basketball. The self-described basketball freak when it comes to learning and teaching fundamentals lives in a country where soccer, cricket, rugby and netball are more popular.
A FIBA-certified coach, McMahon was named Gilbraltar’s national technical director for women’s basketball as well as the coach of its U16 and U18 national teams this October. When he isn’t coaching, developing or promoting the game, he also designs and makes coach erase boards.
Three years ago, McMahon’s close friend, Marcelo Zubiran, was Gibraltar’s technical director for women’s basketball, and his idol was UConn coach Geno Auriemma. They planned a trip together to go to Connecticut and meet Auriemma. “Three years ago, I didn’t know who Geno was,” said McMahon, who was much more heavily invested in European men’s basketball given the quality of the game in nearby Spain. “I didn’t know who UConn was.
“Once I met Geno and watched their practices, I couldn’t get enough. When I got back home, I began watching all their games live. Some of their games don’t finish until 4-5 o’clock in the morning at home, but I make a point to watch them all.” McMahon brought 10 of his coach boards customized for Auriemma with his name and the Huskies’ logo. One of them was a specialized one made of wood that he had just developed.
“He was the first one to receive one, and I said, ‘It would be nice for you to use it in practice,'” McMahon said. “He said, ‘No, no. I will use it in tonight’s game.’ He liked it so much that he uses it every game, and I started making more and more boards.”
McMahon and Zubiran had such a great experience at UConn that they returned again last year. They visited nine universities on the East Coast in eight days and watched six games.
“I am like a basketball freak so a trip like that is my holiday with the highlight being my chance to talk to Geno again and watch his team practice,” McMahon said. “I’ve watched thousands of practices with the Russian, Slovenian, Italian and Spanish national teams, and the way this guy practice, nobody is like him. For me he is like the Pope is for Catholics.”
McMahon appreciates practices more than games, because he likes to see how Auriemma molds players. He watches the uptempo pace of practice. He enjoys the demands that players don’t miss layups or show negative body language and that they stay engaged on sideline, huddle up constantly to communicate and embrace being pushed by Auriemma beyond what they think their own limits are.
Last year McMahon brought another 15 coach boards to UConn “handcrafted from my heart with a lot of kindness and love” and personalized for him and each member of his staff.
“To me it is an honor to be linked to Connecticut,” McMahon said. “You know how I feel when I watch a game on TV and I see him use the board on the sideline? I feel I am there in spirit. And now I have done a big board for their locker room. When they are at halftime giving a talk, it is like I am there leaving my mark.”
This season McMahon returned to UConn for a practice and to watch the Tennessee game from behind the UConn bench.
McMahon himself has suffered from anxiety and depression the past 30 years, and he said basketball has been his sanctuary, something that puts him in a happy place. For the past few years, the happiest of those places has been his small association with UConn basketball.
“It is very true when they say coaches can impact lives,” McMahon said. “The UConn women’s basketball program – and especially the persona of Coach Geno Auriemma – continues to be an important part of my life. The impact this basketball genius has had in my life goes far beyond just basketball.”