THE MONDAY TIPOFF: The Return That Patrick McCaffery Wanted


His first shot of the game, his first shot in a game in four weeks, was a 3-pointer from the right side off an assist from his brother.

And after it went through the net and Carver-Hawkeye Arena was in full voice, Patrick McCaffery raised his arm in celebration and did a spin to take in every decibel of noise.

The Iowa forward was back on the court after taking a six-game pause to address his anxiety and the mental and physical struggles that came with it.

McCaffery played 13 minutes, 3 seconds in Iowa’s 93-82 win over Rutgers on Sunday, and he embraced being back.

“Yeah, it was a lot,” McCaffery said. “It’s been a pretty emotional couple of weeks. So, you know, obviously, going out there and getting the love from the Hawkeye fans was something that made me feel really great and made it feel like it was worth it to come back and good for me to come back and work through those things.”

What he’s done since he announced on January 3 that he would be taking a leave from competition, two days after playing in Iowa’s 83-79 loss at Penn State, wasn’t something he wanted to talk about after the game on Sunday.

Answering the question of what he’s learned about himself, he said, can wait until the end of the season.

“Right now, I’m just really focused on basketball, what I can do to help this team win,” McCaffery said.

He did that on Sunday. He finished with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, 3-of-3 in 3-pointers. He added two rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot. On a day in which the box score was filled with some impressive numbers against the Big Ten’s best scoring defense, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Patrick’s father, knew what he had gotten out of his son.

“It was awesome,” Fran said.. “I would say that I wasn’t surprised because he practiced hard yesterday and shot it really well and played really well. He looked like himself.”

Questions about Patrick’s return started coming up in the last couple of weeks after he returned to practicing with the Hawkeyes. Every time, Fran would say that it would be a game-time decision.

A couple of hours before Sunday’s game, Patrick was out getting some early shots in his jersey top. By the time the Hawkeyes were going through pre-game warmups, he was in full uniform, and it seemed certain the decision had been made.

Patrick wasn’t in the starting lineup — he had started the previous 14 games he had played in this season — but when he headed to the scorers’ table to check in with 13:55 to play in the first half, the applause started as soon as he left the bench. And when he entered the game, it became a standing ovation.

And when he hit that three at the 11:58 mark, the arena rocked.

“Obviously that ovation meant a lot,” Patrick said. “It was a really emotional game, really emotional day and it’s been an emotional couple of weeks. So that all kind of came to fruition. It was great.”

Patrick said his first shot felt perfect. 

“As soon as it came off the hand, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s going in,’” he said. “Seeing it go in — because that can happen sometimes where it feels good and it doesn’t go in —  seeing it go in, hearing the crowd and being back, it was just, you know, a moment to remember for the rest of my life. It was something that really got me going, and got me feeling great about coming back.”

“I think the thing that was most impressive to me was that as soon as he got that shot, he didn’t think, he didn’t hesitate,” Fran said. “He just pulled.”

“You could tell the whole entire crowd was with him,” forward Kris Murray said. “And for him to hit his first shot, you can’t write something like that. It’s really special.”

Patrick has stayed a part of the team since his announcement — being at practice, going on road trips. Coaches like Michigan’s Juwan Howard and Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann would come up and talk to him before games. The Rutgers team signed a card for him before the January 8 game there. Players from around the conference had sent him text messages.

“The support really meant a lot and really let me know that I was doing the right thing,” Patrick said. “And everybody gave me that confidence.”

Patrick isn’t in full game shape yet. The 13 minutes, he joked, “felt like 40.”

“The legs are always the first thing to go when you sit a couple of games,” Patrick said. “So I think those will come back soon enough. I was definitely feeling it there, especially the first half. Second half, I felt a little better. But first half, it was it was rough out there.”

Fran McCaffery said he thought he could have gotten a couple of more minutes out of Patrick. But he also knew that what he got was just right.

Getting 13 minutes out of Patrick was about what Fran McCaffery expected.

“Boy, was he terrific,” Fran said.

Fran knew the challenges his son had faced.

“I’ve been really proud of how he has attacked this issue,” he said. “He’s been very professional about it. He’s been a great teammate, and his teammates have been great to him.”

“I’ve had, swear to God, 150 meetings the past however-many weeks, listening to everybody’s perspective,” Patrick said. 

He came back, he said, on his terms, which was what he wanted.

After the Hawkeyes and Scarlet Knights had gone through the post-game handshake line, the first person to hug Patrick was his brother Connor.

It was fitting, Patrick said, that two of the assists on his 3-pointers belonged to his brother.

“I think he really wanted me to have a good day, and he knew that if I was going to get a shot. I was going to shoot it and I was going to make it,” he said.

The biggest smile as the Hawkeyes left the court belonged to the player who was playing again.

“It was great being back with my teammates,” Patrick said. “They’ve been super supportive of me.

“And I’m forever grateful.”

Photo: Iowa’s Patrick McCaffery celebrates his first-half 3-pointer in Sunday’s win over Rutgers. (Keith Gillett/Icon SportsWire)

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