By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With big-time college basketball, it’s easy to focus on what’s wrong, and on what needs to change.
With nearly 1,500 players currently in the NCAA transfer portal, and with recruiting scandals impacting the sport, and with the ongoing debate over name image and likeness, these are turbulent times.
But every so often you’re reminded about the good things that get overshadowed by all the scandal, bickering, hurt feelings and dishonesty.
That was the case for me on Thursday as I interviewed Iowa point guard Joe Toussaint.
We addressed multiple topics, including his new role as Iowa’s starting point guard, and his attempt to become a better shooter.
This is a significant time in Toussaint’s life as a basketball player, and he is determined to make it work.
New York City players have been described for years as incredibly confident, and that certainly describes Toussaint, who is from the Bronx, and who led his high school team to a city title as a sophomore in 2017, while earning the most valuable player award.
So yes, Toussaint is very serious about basketball, and wants to go as far as he can in the sport.
But it’s the same with his Iowa teammate and close friend Patrick McCaffery, who grew up around the game, and who seems most content when sweeping to the basket on one of his many drives to the hoop.
I interviewed Toussaint on Thursday and asked what his friendship with Patrick McCaffery means to him, and Toussaint’s answer made an impression because it was heartfelt and inspiring, a ray of sunshine during these times of racial unrest
“Patrick is my boy,” Toussaint said. “That’s like my brother if I’m being honest. He’s like my brother now. I don’t even call him my best friend. He’s really like my brother.”
Without basketball, Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery never would have become friends. They almost certainly never would’ve met or even crossed paths since Toussaint is from the Bronx and Patrick McCaffery is from Iowa City.
That’s about as different as it gets.
But the game they both love playing brought them together, and now their bond is forever.
Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery both joined the Iowa team in 2019, and right away, they connected despite their obvious differences.
Toussaint barely stands 6-feet, is black and comes from the heart of New York City, while Patrick McCaffery is 6-9, white and comes from a Midwestern college town where just saying his dad’s first name is enough for most in town to identify as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Even on the court their roles are different with Toussaint a pass-first point guard and Patrick McCaffery a shoot-first forward.
But sometimes, being different is maybe the key in building a strong friendship because life would be boring and predictable if you only associated with people of similar background and experiences.
One of life’s real beauties is learning about people from different backgrounds, and realizing that you have much in common despite the differences, and what you don’t have in common, you still find a connection.
Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery are friends because they share a mutual respect and admiration that has more to do with who they are as people than what they are as people.
They’re friends because the sport they both grew up playing, and the sport that has brought so much joy and jubilation, has brought them together.
And their friends because they enjoy each other’s company. As simple as that sounds, it’s a big part of it.
“He’s just fun to be with,” Patrick McCaffery said from an interview in 2019. “We clicked right away. And he’s a great person, the kind of person you want to be around.”
College teammates already spend countless hours together, but for Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery, it goes way beyond that.
“We do everything together, to be honest,” Toussaint said. “There’s not one day where we don’t see each other. We go everywhere together. We eat together. We go to the gym together. Wherever he goes, I go, and wherever I go, he goes.”
The fact that Patrick McCaffery is the son of Fran McCaffery, and the younger brother of senior guard Connor McCaffery, adds an interesting layer to the friendship between Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery.
Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery both are fortunate to have been born with high-level talent, and to now be good enough to play for a Big Ten school.
But they also had to work hard to get to this point, and they have to keep working hard because being an Iowa basketball player is a daunting task and a daily grind.
The McCaffery’s have sort of turned into an extended family for Toussaint, and that has to be reassuring, not only to Toussaint, who is a long way from home, but also to his relatives in New York.
“I go over to his house to eat a lot, his mom sits me right down,” Toussaint said. “They’ve got a very good family. They mean so much to each other, and to me.”
That family bond helped Patrick McCaffery overcome a malignant tumor on his thyroid in 2014, and now he and Toussaint are key pieces to the future of Iowa basketball. Patrick battled with some of the residual effects from the illness as a true freshman at Iowa. But he stayed healthy and strong throughout this past season, and showed that he can score in a variety of ways and be disruptive on defense with his length and quickness.
Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery will be expected to play bigger roles next season as Iowa moves on from the legendary playing career of Luka Garza, and from Jordan Bohannon being the point guard
Forward Jack Nunge also has transferred to Xavier, while two-year starting guard C.J. Fredrick has entered the transfer portal.
These are changing times on the court for the Iowa men’s basketball team, but one constant is Joe Toussaint’s bond with Patrick McCaffery.
“If you see me, you’re going to see him. He’s not too far,” Toussaint said of his close friend and teammate.