IOWA CITY — Patrick McCaffery always has worn uniform No. 22. Always.
He started wearing it when his father was the coach at Siena College and it was the number of his favorite Siena player, Rick Rossiter. On every basketball team he has played for, at every level, he’s worn it. It also was the number that his good friend and classmate, Austin “Flash’’ Schroeder, wore in baseball.
But when Patrick joined the Iowa basketball program, now coached by his father, he learned that the No. 22 had been retired by the Hawkeyes. It was worn by former Moline High School star Bill Seaberg, who was a star guard on the Hawkeyes’ back-to-back Final Four teams in the 1950s.
With Seaberg’s permission, the number is being unretired so that Patrick can wear it.
Not because Patrick is the coach’s son or because he is a top-100 recruit who could have a highly successful Hawkeye career ahead of him.
It’s because of the story behind the number.
Patrick and Austin Schroeder shared more than just a uniform number. They both were diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2014 and fought the disease side by side.
Patrick won his battle. Austin did not. He died of T-cell lymphoma in April 2015 at the age of 15.
After that, the No. 22 took on added meaning to Patrick. He said “pretty much everything’’ he does now on the basketball court is done with his buddy “Flash’’ in mind.
“He was an athlete, so anything I get that has to do with athletics is something that I will never take for granted anymore because he doesn’t get that opportunity,’’ Patrick said. “I just need to keep taking advantage of any opportunity I get. That’s pretty much all my motivation.’’
Patrick has been somewhat reluctant to talk about his fight with cancer until recently, but now that he is stepping into the spotlight as a member of a Division I basketball program, he realizes there is much good that can come from it.
“Being able to use my platform and trying to get my story out there, maybe it will affect how much money goes toward whoever and maybe people will give more,’’ he said. “It’s something that obviously is close to my heart as somebody who’s gone through it and just knowing that we need to keep fighting that disease is something that is really important.’’
Last week he was presented with the Mary Ann Raymond Donnelly Fighting Spirit Award at a Coaches vs. Cancer event in Albany, New York. Following a short video, he spoke briefly about the need to keep raising funds and awareness about the disease.
Ironically, Fran and Margaret McCaffery helped start the Albany event many years ago when Fran was at Siena, long before they knew their son would be afflicted.
Fran McCaffery admitted it was an emotional night to see his 19-year-old son speak about something intensely personal at an event the coach helped found.
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“He was not somebody who liked to talk about that very much,'' Fran McCaffery said. "I think he said that in his speech. But he's recognized now that it's important that he tell his story for other people. I was really proud of him.’’
Patrick said the path his life has taken in the past five years has made him realize that nothing is guaranteed in life.
“My story ended up OK but there are a lot of other stories of people that weren’t as fortunate as me,’’ he said. “I just need to keep being grateful and keep playing hard every single day and make the most of this opportunity.’’
He now has two tattoos related to his fight with cancer.
On the left side of his chest, he has the name “Flash’’ in Austin Schroeder’s own handwriting.
On the inside of his right forearm is the number 22 along with a quote from an ESPYs speech by ESPN personality Stuart Scott, who also succumbed to cancer: “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.’’
Patrick’s older brother, Connor, who also plays for the Hawkeyes, has the same tattoo on his left forearm.
“That’s a very deep and meaningful tattoo,’’ Patrick said. “We went through a lot of this together so it’s just something that will bond us together even more.’’
When Seaberg got a phone call from Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw earlier this year and heard the story behind Patrick and Flash and the No. 22, he couldn’t say no.
“I asked ‘What kind of kid is he?’’’ said Seaberg, who now lives in Evergreen, Colorado.
Upon hearing the details, he said: “He can use my number as long as he keeps his nose clean.’’
Seaberg, 85, received assurances from athletic director Gary Barta that his number will return to retired status following Patrick’s career. He also received a phone call from Fran McCaffery and a letter of thanks from Patrick.
There is an added twist to the story: Since giving his permission, Seaberg has learned that he also has cancer. He has gone through radiation treatments for prostate cancer and may require surgery eventually.
He’s facing it with the same sort of courage and aplomb as someone else who will wear his old number for the next few years.
“I’m whipping mine like he whipped his so we have that in common,’’ Seaberg said. “It will work out.’’