NEW YORK -- Dan Hurley was nervous and stressed as he awaited his first game as head coach of the UConn men's basketball team in a sold-out environment against Morehead State last Thursday night at Gampel Pavilion. Everything from the game to recruiting concerns to facilities improvement was swirling through his head in the moments before tip-off.
In the locker room, Hurley made a point of coming over and introducing himself to Kevin McMahon, a Wounded Warrior who spent four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and was serving as the honorary UConn team captain for the opener. Kevin was there was his son Sean, a 2016 UConn graduate. Their interaction before the game helped Hurley put all his basketball concerns into perspective.
"The first game, where I'm a little bit nervous about coaching my first game at UConn, I got a chance to take my mind off it by speaking to [Kevin] about his military service," Hurley said this week by phone. "And so it was pretty cool, just getting a break [from] worrying about 2-3 zones and out-of-bounds plays [by] talking to an American hero. It was pretty cool."
McMahon, a 56-year-old Connecticut native, attended UConn's first two home games because he's embedded with the team through the Wounded Warriors program.
"I was just astounded," McMahon said of meeting Hurley. "His first big game at Gampel Pavilion as the new coach, he took the time to walk over, introduce himself to me and thank me for my service. We had a good 2-3 minutes. For the head coach in his position to walk over and recognize me, I felt small."
On Sunday before UConn's second game, Hurley again made a point of speaking with McMahon and wishing him a "Happy Veterans Day."
McMahon will be courtside at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and Friday when the Huskies (2-0) face No. 15 Syracuse and then either No. 13 Oregon or Iowa in the 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project. Each of the four teams has a Wounded Warrior embedded with them for the event.
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has advocated for our nation's military veterans, improving the lives of millions of warriors and their families. The 2K Empire Classic Benefiting WWP helps raise awareness about the needs of warriors and WWP's free programs and services.
"I've been to a lot of events with the Wounded Warriors, and this particular event is another opportunity to get out with the general public," McMahon said this week. "Especially with the UConn men's team, my son being a graduate of UConn, me being a Connecticut resident, it doesn't get much better than that."
Kevin spent four of his birthdays in his 40s overseas and missed a chunk of Sean's formative years because he was in the military. Sean's college entrance essay was entitled, "Growing Up Without Dad."
"I lived my life in the military," said Kevin, who retired in 2011. "A lot of society thinks that Iraq and Afghanistan is a young man's game, but somebody's got to be in charge of those young soldiers. I won't say kids because they're not kids. They're grown men and women."
Meantime, Sean, 24, was captain of his high school lacrosse team and ended up majoring in sports management at UConn.
Now Kevin and Sean have been able to bond through UConn basketball and the Wounded Warrior Project.
"The Wounded Warrior Project has given me so many opportunities to engage with my son, and my son has been a volunteer," Kevin said. "He was an intern with the Adaptive Sports Foundation," which helps people with disabilities through adaptive sports programs. "He did no less than a dozen sporting events through the course of a summer in upstate New York with veterans. Golf, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking."
Kevin, in turn, became a handicapped skiing instructor at the Adaptive Sports Foundation, and now shares a part-time apartment with his son near Windham Mountain in upstate New York.
"The quality time that has been afforded to me to bond with my son, some of that is through the Wounded Warrior Project," Kevin said. "Some of that I have to make on my own as a dad because you can't get back lost years."
For his part, Sean said the whole experience of spending time with his father during UConn games has been special.
"It's definitely something that we bonded over," Sean said. "It's a great reason for us to get together now. Obviously, I'm out of the house and I have a lot of my own things going on and we don't get to see each other as much, but it's a great way for us to get to spend some time together at this stage of our lives."
Sean won't be able to make the games at the Garden because of a previous commitment, but his father will be there supporting Hurley and the Huskies.
"A bunch of my boys from the city are going to the game," Sean said. "I really wish I could've made the games at the Garden but unfortunately I couldn't."
Before facing off against Jim Boeheim and the Orange on Thursday, Hurley hopes to get another chance to speak with Kevin McMahon and take his mind off basketball, even for just a few minutes.
"For us," Hurley said, "as small a part as it is that we're playing, to bring some joy, some happiness, some relief, some good moments to somebody that has displayed bravery in protecting us and serving his country in a manner that is incomprehensible to people that just play sports -- it's fulfilling and we're better for getting to spend some time around a man of his courage."
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