DAYTON, Ohio -- Fran McCaffery's morning began at 5 a.m. Wednesday in Iowa City, beginning one of the longest days in his 54-year-old life.
The Iowa men's basketball coach woke up his 13-year-old son, Patrick, for a life-altering surgery. Doctors were scheduled to remove a tumor on Patrick's thyroid, and McCaffery's fears ranged from cancer to harming Patrick's vocal cords. But the initial chore for the family was simply leaving the house.
"He didn't want to get out of bed," McCaffery said late Wednesday night. "He didn't want to go through the surgery. He was scared. A 13-year-old who's scared, you can only imagine how that makes us feel."
During Patrick's surgery, McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, waited two excruciating hours. They received updates, but McCaffery still called the situation "very stressful." Finally they were allowed into Patrick's room, watched him suffer a reaction to the anesthesia and finally started talking to him. Then McCaffery left the hospital.
"I kissed him good bye and went on the plane," McCaffery said. "Then my focus becomes on my other family."
McCaffery flew back to Dayton and arrived in time for his team's final meeting before the pregame meal. His oldest son, Connor, and his youngest son, Jack, arrived with him at UD Arena. McCaffery embraced them; he hugged Connor and then kissed Jack before walking in the arena. Then he went to work.
Wednesday's overtime loss stings McCaffery as it would any coach. A season filled with so much promise ended in disappointment. But the outpouring of support he received from friends and foes alike -- like NBA all-star Chris Paul -- became overwhelming.
"When you think of people of that stature (Paul) you just recognize their ability to make a difference," McCaffery said. "(Patrick) was scared (Tuesday), and Chris called him and they talked for a long time. He called him back today. To put a smile on a young boy's face, I've heard from so many different people. Former players, almost every one of them. Guys I coached in the '80s, were reaching out to me. Coaches, parents of recruits that didn't come to Iowa were reaching out to me. Cuonzo (Martin, Tennessee's coach), he was praying for me and my family. His team was. Their players came up and hugged me after the game and told me they were thinking about me. ... That I think, puts perspective on a lot of things.
"This 13-year-old boy was fine. He was playing basketball. He was going to school with his friends then all the sudden he's got a lump in his throat. We don't know if it's cancer. The emotion that goes into that as a family for him, for us. I just want to say how much I appreciate the Iowa community, Mr. Barta and everybody has been incredible. The players, for them to make up T-shirts for my son, it just doesn't make you feel anybody to think about him. It was their idea. They designed the shirts. They wore them. That's all you need to know about the character on this team."
At midnight, McCaffery asked questions of the team managers about who was riding on which bus toward the team plane. He was drained and exhausted. The struggle on the court is over, but Patrick's fight is far from complete. The McCafferys will know in a few days whether or not the lump was cancerous. Either way, more medical tests are on the way. It's scary for Patrick, and for his father.
"It was incredibly emotional on so many differently levels," he said.