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Battle-tested Pat McCaffery ready to lead USA into 3-on-3 Youth Olympic Games

USA Iowa Basketball

While topping cancer is undoubtedly his greatest accomplishment, McCaffery knows that as far as competing in sports goes, nothing beats an Olympic gold medal.

In just under a month, Pat McCaffrey will have a chance to win an Olympic gold medal.

For most people, this would be a lifetime achievement that cannot be topped.

Most people haven’t already beaten cancer.

This is the case for McCaffery, a 17-year old Iowa-native and a member of Team USA’s 3-on-3 basketball team participating in this fall’s Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

McCaffery is a super-talented prospect. A 6-foot-8 swingman set to graduate in the spring of 2019, McCaffery is a long, athletic, multi-tooled swingman, and he plays the game with raw emotion. The son of Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, Pat has been around the game his entire life. He’s a USA Basketball veteran, attending two camps in the past, and he starred for D1 Minnesota, a top-five ranked grassroots basketball club throughout the spring season.

His success and potential make it easy to forget that he’s already faced and overcame thyroid cancer.

On March 19, 2014, when McCaffery was 14, he underwent surgery for a thyroid tumor. After learning that it was cancerous, McCaffery underwent a second surgery on April 17 and started six weeks of Iodine treatments. McCaffery was in a radioactive state during the medication cycle, meaning his family members had to quarantine themselves from him during that time.

McCaffery passed a June 13 scan that year and was declared cancer free. Four years removed, the Iowa City West high school product still has to be tested on a consistent basis. Just like basketball, the fight against his cancer was a team effort.

“I had a great support system through it all, which made it a lot easier,” McCaffery said. “(Thyroid cancer) made it difficult for a while. I had to take some time off because of surgeries and other types of treatment. To have accomplished what I have today is really cool, just knowing where I’ve been in the past.”

While topping cancer is undoubtedly his greatest accomplishment, McCaffery knows that as far as competing in sports goes, nothing beats an Olympic gold medal.

“Representing the USA is basically the highest honor you can have on a basketball court,” McCaffery said. “You represent so much more than yourself, so (winning gold) would be really special. It’s the most important thing you can win in basketball because it’s for the whole United States.”

The event, taking place October 6-18, sees McCaffrey join forces with three other elite basketball players under the age of 18 in J’yare Davis, Carson McCorkle, and Dudley Blackwell.

“(USA Basketball) decided,” McCaffery said of his selection to play with Davis, McCorkle, and Blackwell. “They thought we would be good for 3-on-3, so they put us together.”

The foursome will be competing against 19 other 3-on-3 teams from across the globe.

“I like the other guys a lot, we’ve been together at three events so I’ve gotten to know them pretty well and they’re all good guys,” McCaffery said. “There’s also a girls team that has been with us, and we all have gotten along pretty well.”

While they’ve bonded off the court, their on-court play has been exceptional. In March, Team Quest racked up an 8-0 record in USA Basketball’s qualifying round in Colorado Springs.

In the eight victories en route to a championship, McCaffery was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. His biggest asset was on full display - versatility.  

“In 3-on-3, you have to be really versatile on offense, but especially (versatile on) defense. “McCaffery said. “It helps to be able to guard multiple positions. On offense, I’m a pretty versatile player who does well in space, so my game translates really well to 3-on-3.”

What’s the biggest difference between 3-on-3 compared to 5-on-5?

“The game is really fast paced,” McCaffery explained. “You don’t take it back and check it up after a make, you get it out of the net and go, so there’s definitely some strategy that goes into that.”

McCorkle, McCaffrey’s teammate and a sophomore star for Greensboro Day High School in North Carolina, doubled down on the pace of play.

“It’s a lot faster pace and a small space,” McCorkle said. “So spacing and pace are very, very important. There’s nowhere to hide. We have to use more handling and cutting for sure.”

McCaffery also mentioned spacing, as well as the benefit of good cardio and timely substitutions, as being crucial in the 3-on-3 format. The last bit of advice he gave was more strategy.

“Another big part, it’s 1’s and 2’s for (the scoring system), so the two-point shot is way more valuable. We have to make sure we guard well because those add up in a hurry.”

Being the son of a high-major college coach, it makes sense that McCaffery pays attention to strategy. Committed to play for his father as Hawkeye in 2019, there are definite drawbacks of ‘living under a microscope’ in a college town, as McCaffery put it, but he said the good outweighs the bad.

“There are pros and cons, but mainly pros,” McCaffery said. “I’m able to go to a high-level Division I practice every day. I feel like once I get there, I’ll be a little bit ahead of the curve. I get to use the gym and everything, so that’s really beneficial.”

Everything added up, McCaffery is the full package for a budding basketball prospect. He’s battle-tested, mentioning the likes of Duke freshman Zion Williamson and 2019 top five recruits Cole Anthony and Matthew Hurt as his best competition to date. He’s more than ready to represent his country, but the full impact of the opportunity hasn’t sunk in quite yet.

“I don’t think it will set in until I get there,” McCaffery admitted. “I think once we step on the court will be the first time it sets in for me.”

Like normal, McCaffery will have his support system in tow.

“My mom is going to come with me (to Buenos Aires), so her being there will make the trip even more special,” McCaffery said, noting the advice he receives from his parents. “They just make sure that I understand how amazing of an opportunity this is, and how I need to stay focused and take full advantage of it.”

“I still have way more to accomplish.”

First things first, an Olympic gold medal.

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