Following anxiety bout, Iowa's Patrick McCaffery is back and focused solely on basketball

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY − Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery had one word to describe the last month: emotional.

The junior stepped away from the basketball team in early January due to anxiety issues. He returned to the court 28 days later and helped the Hawkeyes to a crucial 93-82 win over Rutgers on Sunday afternoon.

A reflective McCaffery provided a snapshot of his time away following his nine-point, two-rebound and two-assist performance.

"I swear I've had 150 meetings in the last few weeks," McCaffery said. "Just talking to different people and listening to everyone's perspective. But it was coming back on my terms, when I felt ready. Then when I was good mentally, then it's getting ready physically. But all of that stuff is something I'll dig deep into after the season, just right now I'm focused on basketball and what I need to do to help this team win."

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McCaffery returned to practice two weeks ago and steadily ramped up to a return. Coach Fran McCaffery stated postgame that Patrick had a good day of practice on Saturday, which inspired confidence in his return the following day. Typically a starter, he came off the bench Sunday and entered the game midway through the first half to a massive ovation from Iowa's home crowd. A few minutes later, his first shot, a 3-pointer, gave Iowa its first lead.

He provided another spark in the second half, connecting on two more 3s that gave the Hawkeyes a 10-point advantage when Rutgers was trying to make a push. He totaled a little more than 13 minutes. Fran McCaffery noted that Patrick could've gone a little longer, but his conditioning is still a work in progress. It's likely that McCaffery will stay in a bench role for the foreseeable future.

"I played 13 minutes and it felt like 40," McCaffery joked. "“The legs are always the first thing to go when you sit a couple games. Those will come back soon enough. The wind usually comes back, too. But I was definitely feeling it there, especially in the first half. The second half felt a little bit better. But the first half, it was rough out there for a couple of minutes.”

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery (22) dribbles as Rutgers forward Antwone Woolfolk (13) defends during Sunday's game in Iowa City.

McCaffery's return fills a few voids on Iowa's team. To start, it gives the Hawkeyes their full complement of top-level contributors. He will provide instant depth to a front court that's been thinned by injury. McCaffery also gives Iowa more flexibility in its rotations. The team also gains one of its top offensive weapons − McCaffery ranks third on the team in points per game and 3-point percentage.

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Shortly after Sunday's game, McCaffery spoke to the level of support he's received over the past month − from those within the program, opposing Big Ten schools and others. He described the support as "almost overwhelming," but in a good way. The comments gave him the confidence to know that stepping away was the right thing to do. And to return in the fashion he did, to an ovation and helping Iowa to a win, served as confirmation of his decision to return.

"Obviously going out there and getting the love from Hawkeye fans felt really great," McCaffery said. "It made it feel like it was worth it to come back and good for me to come back and work through those things. I'm really grateful and appreciative."

It'll take a little more time before McCaffery is back to full tilt but his presence alone will provide a much-needed spark during Iowa's (13-8, 5-5 in Big Ten) second-half run.

"As soon as he got in, he raised up a shot and didn't think about it," Fran McCaffery said. "Just really happy for him and really proud of how he's attacked this issue. He's been a great teammate and his teammates were great with him."