By Corbin McGuire
Megan Mahoney may be the biggest coffee snob in Rapid City, South Dakota. The K-State women’s basketball alum, now a realtor in her home state, also coaches on the side, and she is probably the only coach in town who can speak Italian.
These are just two of the lasting changes Mahoney’s professional basketball career left on her. The former Wildcat (2001-05) retired this year after 14 years spent mostly in Europe; she played 10 of them in Italy.
“I definitely miss the true, authentic Italian espressos,” Mahoney said, laughing, in a phone interview with K-State Sports Extra.
As for playing the game she grew up on, Mahoney said there’s definitely still some longing to lace it up when she sees friends and former teammates from all over the world post about a game on social media. Even so, she said the “transition has been easier than I thought it would be.”
The main reason: Her body was ready to be done.
Mahoney suffered a pair of serious injuries — a torn ACL and a torn tendon in her foot — the past two seasons, respectively.
“I was just tired, physically and mentally,” she said, “and ready to start the next chapter.”
Still, Mahoney closed her basketball section with quite a few pages. All of it was more than she ever dreamed of growing up in the tiny town of Piedmont, South Dakota.
“I would say it’s a dream come true but, when I was young, I didn’t even realize that was a possibility to play pro in Europe. I think it’s just been kind of indescribable,” she said. “I was able to travel the world playing a sport I love for a living.”
Mahoney’s professional career, in a way, also started how it ended. An injury.
She suffered a torn Achilles in the Big 12 Tournament of her senior season to end her K-State career — one that included a Big 12 Championship and three All-Big 12 honors, including one first ream selection — prematurely.
“I remember feeling very devastated just because that was the last rendezvous for college,” she said, “and we had high hopes to win that and hopefully go far in the (NCAA) Tournament.”
While an Achilles injury can often completely end an athletic career, Mahoney said she was “naïve” to any such possibility.
“I just had a focus of, ‘Alright, this is just something to get over and come back from,'” she recalled. “At that point, I had talked to some pro coaches, so I knew the possibility of becoming pro looked like a reality, so obviously I had a big motivating factor and objective to go after in front of me.”
Mahoney’s blue-collar roots, which she credited her parents for, took hold. After she rehabbed and became a third-round WNBA Draft pick in 2005, Mahoney spent her first professional season in Iceland to prepare for her rookie season in the United States.
She was named Iceland’s Player of the Year, foreshadowing how her basketball career would unfold.
The WNBA did not work out; Mahoney played in 31 games for the Connecticut Sun in 2006 and only 18 the next season, before being traded and waived in 2008.
Europe was a different story, however.
She won three Italian league titles, was named Serie A1 Finals MVP in 2010 and earned a Euro League All-Star nod in 2011.
All while traveling across Europe.
“I remember several times being on a bus driving through the Tuscan hillside or the Amalfi coast of Italy, going to a game and reality snapping back in and being, like, ‘Wow, I’m on the Italian coast, where a lot of people go, maybe, once a lifetime for vacation.’ I’m really thankful for the opportunities it provided me,” Mahoney, who also played two years in France and her last season in Belgium, said. “I got to see a ton of places that I probably never would have, had I not been playing. I have friends still that are spread throughout the world, so if I want to take a little trip, I can go see my friends. Then, I had teams where we won championships, and to be part of that was special.”
Early on, Mahoney said living in different countries did take a bit of adjusting.
In 2006, she was in Iceland from January to April, when it was “freezing cold” and there were about four hours of daylight. In Mahoney’s first season in Italy, she said just about every one of her teammates spoke English. Her second season was the exact opposite.
“So, I was kind of forced to learn Italian,” she said.
In her decade there, Mahoney fell in love with Italian cuisine, its famed espresso and the country’s picturesque landscape. In time, she would also come to understand and enjoy the more general cultural differences. More specifically, she said, “the pace of life.”
Mahoney referred to a story of her first year in Taranto, Italy, on the southern coast. She quickly realized how stores remained closed all day Sunday and Monday mornings. Plus, she added, locals usually take a three-hour lunch break.
“I remember first being down there and it was like a ghost town. I was, like, ‘Where is everybody? When do they do business?'” Mahoney said, now laughing at the memory. “We would have a practice in the morning, so the only time when we could go get groceries and run errands was during the lunch break between our practices, and everything was closed.
“At first, it kind of drove me nuts,” she added. “Our lifestyle is let’s go, let’s get things done on time, and then I was (in Taranto) for five years. I got used to that lifestyle and I enjoyed it. People were happier. They took time. They sat down with their family and enjoyed their meals. They took coffee breaks. It was a happier, more peaceful way of life.”
Mahoney said she hopes to bring a piece of that Italian pace of life back to her new life in the United States. But she plans to remain busy, filling her competitive void with realty, along with coaching basketball.
Currently, she’s helping coach a girls AAU team in South Dakota. Mahoney said her former K-State teammate Nicole Ohlde, who runs a basketball academy in Newton, has already tried to get her to come to one of her tournaments in Kansas. Mahoney hopes she can make it happen in the future.
Mahoney said she also hopes to make her first return to K-State since she graduated. The memories of fans lining up outside for tickets and students storming in to get good seats as soon as the doors opened still hold strong in her mind.
“There’s been some fans over the years that have wrote me letters or kind of kept in touch. Our fans were really awesome there. There’s a lot of people that say that, but that experience of people waiting in line and running down the bleachers…I haven’t been back to Manhattan but I just would hope that the people there and the fans know that it holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “I’m thankful for those years there.”
Source: Kansas State Sports