Iowa men’s basketball forward Patrick McCaffery returns to court after missing time to work on mental health

The 6-foot-9 forward showed out in his return to action, knocking down a trio of triples in the Hawkeyes’ home victory over Rutgers.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery puts up a 3-point shot during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. McCaffery hit his first 3-pointer after returning to the court for the first time since taking a leave of absence to deal with anxiety. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 93-82.

Grant Hall, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s basketball forward Patrick McCaffery is back from his extended leave of absence. McCaffery stepped away from the program on Jan. 3, citing personal struggles with anxiety. 

While McCaffery said the leave would be indefinite, he was adamant that he would be back on the floor this season. 

“I will return when I feel like myself,” McCaffery said in a release.

Six minutes and five seconds into Iowa’s home matchup against Rutgers on Sunday, McCaffery entered the contest for his first game action in nearly a month. The 6-foot-9 Iowa City West High School graduate had not seen the court since a Jan. 1 loss at Penn State.

As soon as No. 22 stood up at the scorer’s table to enter the game, the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd erupted in applause and gave him a standing ovation.

“I’m really appreciative and grateful for the Hawkeye fans that came out today,” McCaffery said postgame. “That ovation meant a lot … It’s been a really emotional couple of weeks.”

McCaffery did not take the fanfare for granted, as he wasted no time making an impact in his homecoming game. He took, and made, his first open shot — a 3-pointer from the right wing — to push Iowa out in front of Rutgers, 15-14.

“As soon as it came off my hand, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s going in,’” McCaffery said. “Seeing it going in, and hearing the crowd, it was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It got me going, and it made me feel great about coming back.”

McCaffery didn’t quit while he was ahead. He knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the middle of the second half to push the Hawkeye lead back to double digits on consecutive possessions.

McCaffery has been day-to-day for the past couple Hawkeye games, and teammate Kris Murray said his return to the floor energized the Hawkeyes and motivated them to get the win.

“For him to come in and hit his first shot … you can’t write something like that,” Murray said. “That was really special.”

In total, McCaffery recorded nine points on 3-for-5 shooting in limited minutes. The Hawkeyes picked up a big conference win to improve to .500 in the Big Ten and swept the season series against Rutgers with a 93-82 final score.

His father and head coach Fran McCaffery praised Patrick’s mentality after the game.

“The thing that was most impressive to me was, as soon as he got in the game, he raised up a shot,” Fran McCaffery said. “He didn’t think about it, didn’t hesitate… He did the same thing on the other two [made threes]. I was really happy for him, and I’m really proud of how he’s attacked this issue.”

Despite just 13 minutes of playing time, Patrick McCaffery joked that it felt like much more. He said he was fatigued, but he’ll be back in playing shape soon.

“It felt like [I played] 40 minutes,” he said. “The legs are always the first thing to go when you sit a couple of games, but those will come back soon enough. The wind usually comes back pretty quick too … I was definitely feeling it out there in the first half, it was rough for a couple minutes.”

Patrick McCaffery also thanked a handful of his Big Ten opponents for their kindness during his absence.

“A bunch of players from the Big Ten were reaching out, guys that we had played against, and everybody would say something [kind] to me,” Patrick McCaffery said. “Juwan Howard was great, [Ohio State head coach Chris] Holtmann was great. The support really let me know I was doing the right thing for myself and the team.”

In that theme, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell expressed well-wishes for Patrick McCaffery after the game.

“I’m happy that he got back playing,” Pikiell said. “You always want your players to be healthy and happy.”

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