On a team filled with great individual stories, Patrick McCaffery’s story inspires hope beyond sports
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There are so many individual stories to tell about the Iowa men’s basketball team that inspire hope and optimism, and show that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself.
Luka Garza’s incredible rise to dominance is a story about how his relentless approach to getting better on a daily basis is now paying huge dividends.
Jordan Bohannon’s story is one of persistence, perseverance and precision, and proving the doubters and naysayers wrong.
Keegan and Kris Murray’s story is about twin brothers having the rare opportunity to follow in their father’s footsteps by playing basketball for Iowa.
C.J. Fredrick’s story is about how a family, particularly his uncle Joe Fredrick, helped him reach this level as a basketball player with their love and commitment.
Connor McCaffery’s story is about believing that no challenge is beyond reach, and that playing two sports at the Power 5 level is possible if you’re willing to put in the time and make the sacrifices to do it.
I could keep going because every player on this Iowa team has his own story to tell.
But there is one individual story that stands out because it’s about so much more than just basketball, and that’s Patrick McCaffery’s story to this point.
Patrick’s story has been filed with overwhelming sadness and fear, with uncertainty and trepidation, with tragedy and despair, but also with triumph and hope.
The fact that Patrick McCaffery, who is Connor McCaffery’s younger brother, scored 16 points in his season debut on Wednesday has an impact that goes way beyond the basketball court.
Patrick McCaffery is proof on this Thanksgiving day that darkness can turn to light with help from a lot of good and talented people, and with the power of prayer, love, friendship, and of course, hard work.
Because it took all of those things for Patrick to overcome a serious and scary health issue that started when he learned in 2014 that he had malignant tumor on his thyroid.
Patrick had surgery to remove the tumor, and the surgery went well, but it was also just the start of a long and sometimes frightening journey that has been filled with numerous peaks and valleys.
One of the lowest moments came when Patrick’s childhood friend, Austin “Flash” Schroeder, succumbed to cancer in 2017 after a long and courageous battle.
They both had fought the dreaded disease together, so it was devastating for Patrick to lose his friend and inspiration.
But Patrick also uses Austin Schroeder as inspiration to this day.
I remember interviewing Patrick after he had scored a bunch of points in a high school game for Iowa City West High as a senior in 2019, and Austin Schroeder’s name came up.
“I think about him every day,” Patrick said. “He’s my inspiration. I play in honor of his memory.”
I also remember the day in 2014 when Patrick McCaffery and Austin Schroeder both appeared together at a Herky on Parade event in downtown Iowa City. I still was working for the Iowa City Press-Citizen at the time, and I’ll never forget the look of fear on both of their faces.
They were just kids, but sadly, cancer doesn’t care.
But I also remember their courage from that day, and how they both tried to be upbeat and positive despite facing an uncertain future.
Patrick would go on to become the all-time leading scorer for West High and a top-100 recruit nationally.
But it hasn’t been easy due to lingering health issues.
Patrick McCaffery only appeared in two games last season due to residual effects from his thyroid condition. He struggled to gain weight, but now he weights over 200 pounds for the first time in his life, and as a 6-foot-9 small forward, is another piece to a deep and talented puzzle that his father has assembled at Iowa.
Fran McCaffery has the good fortune of being able to coach both of his sons at Iowa, and Fran savors every moment because he knows all too well what Patrick has been through to reach this point.
Fran and his wife Margaret have been pillars of strength for Patrick, like only parents can be.
Fran McCaffery lost both of his parents to cancer, and he has made it his life’s mission to spread awareness and raise money to fight the disease, with help from Margaret.
Patrick McCaffery is now a symbol of hope, in addition to being a talented basketball player.
He understands what it takes to overcome adversity and to cope with overwhelming sadness.
The support and love from his family, and from his Iowa teammates, has helped Patrick persevere, and that same love and support will help Iowa forward Jack Nunge cope with his own tragedy.
Nunge’s father, Dr. Mark Nunge, died suddenly and unexpectedly this past Saturday morning at the age of 53.
The team held a moment of silence for Mark Nunge prior to Wednesday’s 97-67 victory over North Carolina Central in the season opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It was important for us to do that,” said Fran McCaffery. “We love Jack, we’re there for Jack.”
Patrick McCaffery will definitely be there for Jack Nunge, with a shoulder to cry on, and with a story to tell about hope and about overcoming tragedy.