By: Ethan Fuller
When Boston University men’s basketball captured its first conference title in nearly a decade, Max Mahoney completed a four-year career of prolific post scoring, glass cleaning and leadership for the Terriers. While BU’s March Madness bid was nullified by COVID-19, the cancellation does not lessen the impact the senior forward made on the program.
Mahoney finished college with over 1500 points and over 700 rebounds, both placing him in the school’s top ten all-time totals. He is the most efficient scorer in BU basketball history and he holds the top three seasonal field goal percentage records in men’s program history. In his senior year, Mahoney landed on the All-Patriot League First Team and All-Defensive Team, in addition to scoring 18 points and grabbing ten boards in the conference championship game.
Mahoney caught up with Ethan Fuller on Friday to reflect on his growth as a player and person, his basketball career, and his future.
Ethan Fuller: Who or what helped you grow as a leader when you first got to this level?
Max Mahoney: I thought my seniors and classmates were huge in helping me grow and develop. Guys like Justin Alston, Dylan Haines, Blaise [Mbargorba] — mostly the big guys too, I would say. We would just go in and we would just beat up on each other for a few hours, having wrestling matches in the post. And I think it just helped toughen me up and realize what college basketball is gonna be like. The pace of the game and the physicality of it is just so much more than high school ever was.
My first game [at Northeastern] … it was not a great performance. And the next game I actually didn’t play at all. I think it was the first time ever in my career I’d been benched for a non-injury type of reason. So after that I’m like, “Well, my career was over,” and I was pretty down in the dumps, like, “well, maybe college basketball isn’t for me,” and my coaches and teammates pulled me through. I asked Coach a little later in the season what I could be doing to get more time, and he told me to just go rebound the ball. We needed help rebounding, so that’s all I tried to do when I went out there. I think I just went in the game and thought: grab as many boards as I can in however many minutes I play.
EF: Everyone knows you now for being super skilled in the post and on the glass. What kind of work went on behind the scenes developing that?
MM: I gotta give a lot of credit to Coach Curtis Wilson. He’s pretty much the big man coach; he works with the bigs in our breakdowns and he’s just great about footwork and he always talks about “finding our windows” in the post. Just really understanding space is what he drives home for us, and that helped me tremendously. I mentioned the physicality [in Division I] but also, guys are just longer — they’re not 5-10 centers anymore. You’re playing against 6-9 kids with wingspans, and if you can’t outmuscle them, you’re gonna have to find space.
I gotta give him a lot of credit, and the guys who I’d come in and guard every day. We’d just bang in the post all practice and, you know, we’d be sore after, and sometimes we’d elbow each other and hate each other, but when the lights came on it really helped us.
EF: If you could pick two or three guys [in the Patriot League] you would go up against who you had the most respect for, who would they be?
MM: First, I would definitely say Will Rayman. I kinda grew to hate him. He’s a physical player, he’ll do what it takes to win and he does a lot of things for [Colgate University]. We got pretty scrappy. I broke his nose when we played them at home — it was an accident, but I don’t think he appreciated it. We would always talk to each other during games and it wasn’t friendly chatter, either. But regardless of what happened between the lines, when we got off the court it was always a handshake or a pat on the back. He’s a guy I really grew to respect, both as a player and just his game. He was a really tough player to play against.
Nate Sestina, when he was at Bucknell, he was the same type of player. Physical, and he can hurt you in so many ways from beyond three and inside. He pretty much did it all. Good year at Kentucky too [Sestina transferred and played at Kentucky in 2019-20], which was cool to see.
Matt Wilson too, the center at Army. Very physical, he was so wide, too, and so strong. He puts on a show down there and as much as we’ll bang and get into it, it’s always a handshake and a pat on the back.
EF: You talked about Will Rayman — you’re going into this championship game and you know this is center stage for a battle between you two. What was your mindset going into that matchup and the game in general?
MM: I was super excited. We worked so hard to get to that spot, and we knew, even going into the playoffs, a lot of people thought Colgate was the team to beat and we had our shot at it. With [Rayman] and Rap [Ivanauskas] in the frontcourt, we had out hands full. I think Suk [Mathon] in that game made such a big difference both defensively and on the offensive glass. He scored a little bit too, but he really imposed his will in the paint in that game. If I was ever off the floor or out on the perimeter because I was guarding Rayman, Suk was holding it down inside.
It was all kind of a buildup — they had beaten us twice, they knocked us out last year, so we were hungry, man. It all kinda came to fruition. There was this feeling about us that there was no way we were losing that game. Guys were so confident — whether the ball was going in or not going in, our mindset was we were winning this game.
EF: Would you say that championship game, as far as your basketball lifetime, is near the top?
MM: By far. Easily the best thing. I’ve racked up a fair amount of individual awards both in high school and in college, but I never had a real team accomplishment like that. The team accomplishments are just so much more fulfilling because that’s where your work goes. Any type of all-team recognition I thought was cool at the time until I won a championship with my team and then, you know, I could care less about anything else.
That Player of the Year race was pretty tight this year and I thought I might have won it — didn’t go my way — but after I won the championship I could really care less.
EF: What was your relationship like with Adam [Mikula], because your roads were very different but you both had an impact on who this team was?
MM: We’re alike in a lot of ways. He wanted to win just as bad, whether it was on the court or off. Sometimes if you’re a guy who’s not getting the playing time you want, you’ll go into your shell and think, “Oh, this program’s doing me wrong.” But Adam’s the type of guy where that just doesn’t matter to him. He made a tremendous impact on our program right from the start with his work ethic and his ability to communicate.
We actually ended up watching film of our bench, which seems like a bizarre thing to do. But when we’re playing well and things are going well for us, our bench is involved. They’re clapping and cheering. Guys like Adam, he’s going to be one of my best friends. We led in different ways, but sometimes I had to defer to him. Sometimes in practice, I’m not getting it done, Adam will step in, take the reigns and [lead], and I’d just let him do it. He’s a great leader, great communicator — knows what needs to get done to win.
EF: If you look back on yourself graduating high school and yourself now, how has the meaning of basketball to you changed?
MM: It means a lot. In high school you get a taste, but in college and there’s so much more to balance between social life and academics … just a lot more rigorous and the schedules are more jam-packed. So [basketball] was my escape during those times where, you know, I’d have a tough day or anything like that. Being able to get in the gym was like a solace. So obviously it’s meant a lot.
Coach Jones especially, he challenges us every day to obviously be better basketball players, but better people. Any time we have a guest in the gym we’re shaking hands, we’re reaching out to people and doing the right things — building our character as well.
EF: I know there’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but what are you pursuing next for yourself whether it’s basketball or something else?
MM: I’m considering continuing to play in some capacity, whether it’s overseas or domestically, so that’s obviously something I’m considering. Right now, like you said, everything’s so uncertain, so my main goal is to just stay in shape. I just worked out in my little home gym. I’m really just doing anything I can — I was just shooting in my driveway — to keep my shot right. Times are crazy, so just taking it day-by-day with classes, workouts and such, trying to do the right things.
EF: Where are you most proud of your personal growth over the last four years?
MM: I’ve always been kind of personable and outgoing, but learning how to tailor that to helping others. Obviously that translates into helping the program, and I think that’s something that I did. It felt so amazing to win that conference title with my boys and to see it all come together in that way. I think what got us there was me being open-minded, hearing other people’s ideas while sharing mine as well. Growing my character would probably be the biggest thing, and maturity definitely.
Like I said, after that first time I got benched I thought, “Well, it’s all over,” but you know, being able to grow from that to a guy who’s taking control of huddles, taking control of games when need be. I can’t find a single word for it, but hopefully that gives you an idea.
This interview has been edited and condensed.