CRAWFORD | McSweeney scores: Extra effort makes the difference f - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | McSweeney scores: Extra effort makes the difference for boy fighting cancer

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The script had been approved and was worthy of Hollywood. When the ball was thrown up for Sunday's game between the University of Louisville and Bellarmine University, the visiting Knights were going to win the tip, and Patrick McSweeney, a 15-year-old St. Xavier High School sophomore fighting leukemia, would spring open for a three-pointer at the top of the key and make it.

Instead, the script got ripped to shreds.

Louisville won the tip and missed its first shot, but got an offensive rebound and Chris Jones nailed a three-pointer.

Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport joked with Jones after the shot, saying, “You were supposed to miss.” Jones answered, “I was trying to.”

“You know you're in trouble when they're trying to miss it and make their first three,” Davenport said.

On the other end, Bellarmine ran its play, just like the team had practiced on Saturday with McSweeney on the court. He got the shot he wanted and pulled the trigger from the top of the key, but didn't draw iron.

“Disappointing,” he said. “I had made so many of those in practice.”

On the next trip down, McSweeney drove for a layup that rolled off, but got his own rebound and hit a jumper from the baseline that brought the KFC Yum! Center crowd of 20,432 to its feet.

McSweeney, after the game, said everything had been perfect but his three-point try. But he already knows, it's what happens after the script falls apart that matters the most.

Cancer isn't in anyone's plans. It certainly wasn't in the plans of McSweeney's family when they found out nearly 10 years ago, when he was only five years old, that he was facing a life-threatening disease.

The story of his sickness and the efforts of Team IMPACT, Davenport and U of L coach Rick Pitino to get him to the court are well-known by now. Davenport showing up at his home Wednesday night to give him the news he was playing. Pitino telling his family that he would pick up the cost of traveling to Philadelphia to resume T-cell infusion treatment, as well as its hotel stay for the two weeks of treatments.

But before that, he got what Davenport called, “a chance of a lifetime.”

He was flooded with emails and well-wishes when he woke up on game day, including one particularly special text message. It wasn't the first time McSweeney had started the day with an upbeat text from coach Charlie Strong, who befriended him several years ago when he was football coach at U of L, visited him in the hospital frequently and has continued his calls and texts even after leaving for Texas.

McSweeney had breakfast with the Knights at the North End Cafe. He went through the team's morning shootaround at the KFC Yum! Center.

He talked with coaches and U of L players before the game but admitted he was a bundle of nerves. “Their mouths were moving but I didn't hear much,” he said. “My heart was just pounding and thoughts just kept rushing, rushing through my head. It was just crazy, everything going on, getting out on the court, looking around the stadium, seeing everyone, then finally making it after a rough miss.”

One of the great things about these events is that it gives NCAA teams a chance to do something good, in a tangible way. It allowed U of L to advertise for the Bone Marrow Registry.

Throughout my career, I can't tell you how many times I've seen coaches do incredibly moving things, or heard from people they've helped. Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie, Rich Brooks, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, John L. Smith. Strong spent enough time at hospitals, it seemed, to earn some kind of medical degree.

I have a friend who has a 12-year-old fighting leukemia. You don't hear about it when Pitino pays a visit and doesn't just drop by, but plops down on a hospital bed and plays X-box for an hour. You don't hear because these coaches don't want it publicized. They just want to do it. I know when Jody Demling's son, Tanner, collapsed and spent two weeks in the hospital, many people reached out, but few as often or in as heart-felt a way as Bobby Petrino.

Every once in a while we see glimpses of things people do. Calipari or the team at UK. What was done for Lauren Hill at Mount St. Joseph's.

Chances are, the coach you absolutely can't stand, no matter who you root for, has done things for people that would make you (almost) never want to cheer against them again.

“We can all learn a tremendous lesson of being appreciative,” Davenport said of McSweeney. “If he said ‘thank you' once — from Wednesday night when Doug (Davenport of U of L) and I went over and invited him, if he said thank you once — he's said thank you a thousand times. I wonder how many of us thanked anybody today for anything? Pregame meal, thanked everybody. Rode over there with Jake (Thelen), thanks, Jake, this is great. Manager passes him the ball, and he thanks our manager. How many of us have thanked enough people today?”

Even if we did, we probably didn't do it with the kind of medical situation ahead of us that McSweeney and his family have.

The script also called for McSweeney to come to the media room after the game, but he broke with that script himself. He wanted to stay in the locker room with the Bellarmine players, and answer questions outside there, with them. As his departure loomed closer, maybe he needed team a little more than he needed to talk. Everyone surely understood, and even respected that.

After the game, Pitino told him he'd give him his number, and that he would check on him soon.

“It means the world to me what coach Davenport and Rick Pitino were able to set up,” McSweeney said. “They worked for months, and now that it's happened, it's such an exciting day for me and I'll never forget it. It was so exciting. It was nerve-wracking, kind of why I air-balled. Maybe we can put that one aside and focus on the one I made. It meant so much to be out there. I never thought I'd experience anything like that in my life. It helped so much, another boost, just meant a lot to our whole family, just letting us know through Bellarmine and U of L that there's a lot of people who have our back. I was glad this could happen for my family.”

After the cameras were gone, Bellarmine's players gathered around McSweeney and wished him luck. There were handshakes and hugs, promises to keep up with him, and he and his family headed out of the gym. They'll fly to Philadelphia Monday morning.

“It's a cool thing for a young man,” Pitino said. “Everybody in Card Nation, as well as Bellarmine, our prayers are going to be that he makes a recovery and gets back to where he's playing for real. We're all praying for that.”

McSweeney could've driven for a layup from the start. But Davenport said he wanted to try the three pointer. He drained several in warmups, with the crowd watching.

“Someone asked me, isn't that putting a lot of pressure on him, having him shoot a three?” Davenport said. “You think about what that young man has been through the last 10 years, and talk about pressure. No. No. He was embracing the thrill of a lifetime and he was going for it, just like we're all going for him to get some great treatment and great news.”

Hopefully years from now he'll be able to look back on that moment and realize, it's not the first shot that counts. After fighting through three relapses, McSweeney was living proof to all those in the arena and all those watching on television that it's second effort that matters more, and third, and however many it takes.

In that sense — when the first shot didn't fall, nor the second, but the third, when the plans broke down but still worked out in the end — maybe the script played out just as it should have.

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