LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - After enduring four seasons of turmoil in the University of Louisville basketball program during which he played for three coaches, Ryan McMahon thought he had finally outrun adversity. He was wrong.
And the final blow was the worst, landing when he and his teammates learned a few weeks ago that they would be unable to realize their season-long goal of chasing a national championship due to concern about the exploding coronavirus threat.
It came on March 12 as the No. 15 Cardinals (24-7) were in Greensboro, N.C., preparing to play a quarterfinals game against Syracuse in the ACC Tournament when the NCAA announced that it was canceling all remaining winter and spring championships. For McMahon, a fifth-year senior, that meant not only the end of a promising season but of his roller-coaster college career after the Cards were set up for a big finale.
"I mean, all the adversity I went through in terms of things that were out of my control was over and we were going to finish off this last season the right way as kind of a crescendo to my career," McMahon said during a teleconference call Monday afternoon. "Even if we didn't finish it off the right way, having some closure would have been a little bit easier to swallow.
"Obviously, how the season ended was, for lack of a better word, a shock. I would never have expected our season to end that way. I felt like we had a run in us. I'm sure every team in March felt like that, but I know we had a special team. I've been on five teams here at Louisville and I know this one was very special."
McMahon was greeted with adversity the minute he arrived on campus from Sarasota, Fla., in 2015-16, the season Louisville was banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions related to strippergate. Then, following his redshirt freshman year, coach Rick Pitino was fired days before the start of preseason practice in 2017 after UofL was implicated in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
The 6-0 sharpshooting guard spent that season playing for interim coach David Padgett before coach number three, Chris Mack, was hired in 2018, prompting another period of adjustment. At least, though, McMahon's playing time jumped from 15.6 minutes per game to 19.1.
This past season was much better. He started 15 games, playing nearly 25 minutes per outing while averaging a career-best 8.7 points and leading the Cards in 3-point shooting at 43.6 percent (68-156). His .393 career 3-point percentage ranks sixth at UofL and his .913 career free throw percentage (137-of-150) is a program record.
"This is the one year that really had any consistency and flow to it until the very last part that we worked all year for," McMahon said. "It's hard to see now, but I know that facing that adversity will help me later on in life. I know that whenever I face things that are out of my control in the future, which I know are going to happen, I'll be prepared for it and know how to respond."
McMahon said the last time the Cards were together was when they arrived back in Louisville on March 13 and met with the coaching staff in a private room at the airport.
"Coach tried to give us any sort of goodbye or conclusion to the year if he could," McMahon recalled. "It was really a weird feeling, like where do we go from here? Some guys went home, some guys stayed in Louisville. So that was the last time we were all together, and who knows if we'll ever be together again."
McMahon said he is trying to stay in shape by exercising, running and lifting weights, noting that he is enjoying his runs more now than when he was playing.
"I get to go at my own pace, which is nice, without Coach K (strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler) yelling at me to go faster or me having to hit a time or else I have to do it over again."
McMahon graduated last year with a bachelor of science degree in marketing, but is still working on some online courses he has to complete for his continuing education. He is also trying to hire an agent to explore his options for professional opportunities overseas.
"If I feel those opportunities outweigh starting my career in something else, then I'll keep playing basketball," he said. "If not, then I'll have to hang up my shoes and start tearing up men's leagues."
He said that barring basketball, his Plan A at this time is becoming a financial advisor with Mass Mutual, where he recently had an internship. He said he would also consider medical or pharmaceutical sales and added that he is being approached with various job opportunities and is trying to decide which ones might be worth pursuing.
"Anything that's competitive and I think I could develop a passion for and be really good at," he said.
McMahon said his career at Louisville "blew past my expectations" and that he hoped his legacy would be about more than the adversity he overcame.
"I think most importantly I would want it to be that I was a guy who was very loyal and stuck with the program and the university through a lot of hard times, the good and the bad," he said. "More specifically, I felt like I was one of the better shooters in Louisville history and I tried to give my all every second on the court to help us get as many wins as possible. Not worry about my own stats or my own personal accolades or anything like that. Whether I was playing a lot or playing a little, just find my role and do it really, really well."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.