McMahon, 5-9, comes up short Canada ripped by U.S., 105-61

June 30, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

PORTLAND, ORE — PORTLAND, Ore. -- He stands 5 feet 9 and 161 pounds, with hair so blond it looks bleached. Is he a teen-age head-banger? A California beach bum? Nope, he's the starting point guard for the Canadian Olympic men's basketball team.

Ronn McMahon, 27, is the kind of scrappy player you'd want leading your pickup squad at the local YMCA. Unfortunately, he's not the kind you'd want guarding Magic Johnson in an Olympic qualifying game.

McMahon gave away a foot to Johnson last night in the Tournament of the Americas -- not to mention 9 inches to Michael Jordan, the other U.S. Olympian he found himself defending in Canada's 105-61 loss to the Dream Team.

The mismatch at the point reflected the mismatch on the court, but McMahon didn't spend his pre-game hours pondering how to stop Johnson, who scored six points on him in the first four minutes.

"The biggest thing for me was the size difference," he said. "I have tremendous respect for those players, but I have my pride. I'm not going to give them anything. A team like this may never be together again. In that sense, it was an honor to be part of history."

McMahon (two points, four turnovers, four assists) expected to getmore defensive help -- Canada featured three 7-footers, including former NBA centers Mike Smrek and Bill Wennington -- but coach Ken Shields chose to play man-to-man almost exclusively.

Needless to say, that left McMahon in some uncomfortable situations. At one point, the crowd giggled as he flailed his arms at Johnson, but for the most part he held his own.

McMahon picked up two fouls in the first 6:34, but returned six minutes later and broke up a two-on-one pass from Charles Barkley to Jordan. He was one reason Canada trailed by a surprisingly close 31-24 margin late in the first half.

At Eastern Washington, McMahon posted a career average of 3.5 steals, the second best in NCAA history behind former Oklahoma star Mookie Blaylock. Of course, he wasn't playing against a Big Sky opponent last night.

The fact is, it's amazing McMahon is even playing for Canada, much less starting. He went to high school in Upland, Calif., and didn't know he was eligible for the national team until Shields called him last season.

At the time, he was playing for the Yakima Sun Kings of the Continental Basketball Association. "We had heard he was a Canadian," Shields said. "We didn't know of him. But we're always looking for players."

It turns out McMahon's parents are Canadians who moved to California for graduate school and then jobs. They have since returned to Lethbridge, Alberta, and their son couldn't be happier to have rediscovered his roots.

After playing for three coaches at Yakima last season, his plan this summer was to join the Jacksonville Stingrays of the World Basketball League. Naturally, the Stingrays folded, and McMahon found himself learning the words to "O Canada."

Not only did he earn a spot on the Olympic team, he became a starter when Eli Pasquale -- a guard with 14 years of international experience -- broke his ankle. Now, he's trying to help Canada finish in the top four of this 10-team tournament to qualify for Barcelona.

He might look out of place during pre-game warm-ups, but that's about the only time. Once the game begins, he darts all over the court, harassing rival ballhandlers, throwing no-look passes, dribbling through double-teams.

In the first game of the tournament, he hit two foul shots with 18.8 seconds left to give Canada a 78-76 lead over Cuba. He then forced Cuba's Jose Diaz into a desperate

three-point attempt with .5 of a second left, only to see the shot connect.

Canada rebounded from that crushing defeat with an 87-80 victory over Argentina on Sunday night. McMahon scored 14 points with four steals and four assists. Against Cuba, he had 12 points, three steals and six assists.

That brought him to last night's confrontation with the Dream Team-- and with Magic. "I feel like he'll have a hard time bringing it up," McMahon said, citing his own quickness. "But once he brings it up, I'll be in trouble."

McMahon was right, but there he was last night, guarding Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. "You've got to go out, play hard and not be intimidated," the littlest Canadian said. That much, he did.

Dream Team schedule

Sunday: USA 136, Cuba 57

Last night: USA 105, Canada 61

Today: Panama, 10 p.m.

Tomorrow: Argentina, 10 p.m., TNT

Friday: Semifinals, 10 p.m., TNT

Sunday: Final, 4 p.m., NBC

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