By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery met with the media on Thursday to discuss two of the biggest passions in his life besides his family.
He split time between answering questions about basketball and about his ongoing quest to raise money to fight cancer.
McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, hosted their annual cancer research fundraiser on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The event is now in its seventh year and is close to raising $1 million for cancer research. The hope was that Thursday’s event would push the total over the $1 million plateau.
McCaffery lost both of his parents to cancer, and his son, Patrick, had thyroid cancer, but has since made a full recovery and will play basketball for his father after graduating from West High School next spring. .
Patrick McCaffery also lost one of his best friends to cancer when Austin “Flash” Schroeder died in 2015. They fought the disease together and formed a special bond that touched others.
Fran McCaffery is on a mission to help wipe out a disease that has brought incredible sadness and misery to his life, and fundraisers like the one on Thursday, are a huge part of that mission.
“It’s interesting because when I first got involved with the program it was the result of the fact that my parents died of cancer and I was happy to use my name in any way,” Fran McCaffery said. “But then you go to events and people come in and speak about their experiences and families and individuals, and you never think that you’re going to be the one up there talking about your experience and what we went through with Patrick, and what he went through with Austin.
“So when you’re on the other side of it is where you see the incredible advancement of modern medicine and what that means. So that when you tell somebody they have cancer, it doesn't mean that’s a death sentence.”
The money raised from Thursday's event goes to the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Fran McCaffery’s oldest son, Connor McCaffery, also spoke to the media on Thursday and was upbeat and optimistic about the upcoming season and about his role at point guard. The 6-foot-5 Connor McCaffery finally is healthy after a true freshman season in which he struggled with an ankle injury and with illnesses, including strep throat.
Connor’s weight is back up to 215 pounds and he is eager to contribute to a team that is trying to rebound from a disastrous season that saw Iowa finish 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall last season.
“I’m feeling strong and finally getting back into basketball shape,” Connor said. “It’s gone really well.”
Thursday’s fundraiser was a big deal to Connor McCaffery, because just like his parents, Connor has been touched by his brother’s fight against cancer. Connor nearly became emotional as he talked about his brother’s ordeal.
Connor also showed reporters a tattoo on his left arm that is a tribute to his brother. It says “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”
“This event means a lot,” Connor McCaffery said. “Obviously, my brother going through what he did, cancer is a huge part of my life. I mean I’ve got it tattooed on my body. It’s just something that really, really makes me emotional a little bit.
“Having so many people in my family been affected by this and being able to come out and see all this support and all the great people throughout the community that come and raise money for this cause is awesome.”
Fran McCaffery also talked basketball on Thursday, saying that he is pleased with his team’s progress in practice.
Asked if there was anything that has stood out in practice, McCaffery immediately mentioned the progress made by sophomore center Luka, Garza, who is recovering from having a 10-pound cyst removed from his abdomen in September.
McCaffery basically said that Garza, despite missing five weeks of practice, has picked up where he left off last season.
“So that’s been really impressive,” said Fran McCaffery, who is entering his ninth season as the Iowa head coach.
Iowa will have a closed scrimmage against Missouri on Sunday at Quincy College in Quincy, Ill., and the 6-11 Garza told reporters that he expects to play.
“The recovery went better than me or the doctors could have hoped,” Garza said. “It went really well. I’m just real blessed and I feel real good just being out there.”
Freshman forward Joe Wieskamp also met with the media on Thursday and he thinks the team is really starting to come together.
“It’s great to have Luka back and boost that chemistry," Wieskamp said.
Fran McCaffery confirmed a rumor that freshman guard C.J Fredrick injured a rib in practice, but McCaffery didn’t say it was broken.
The injury occurred when Fredrick tried to take a charge against 6-9, 250-pound forward Tyler Cook.
“I bet he won’t practice tomorrow; he might be able to play Sunday,” McCaffery said. “It’s not something that I would aggressively push. We’ll leave that up to the doctors.
“On the same spill, he was x-rayed on his arm because it was quite a collision. But he was doing pretty well yesterday other than he’s got some incredible discomfort even if he doesn’t have a broken rib. So it’s possible that it’s cracked. But it’s not displaced or anything like that.”