By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Bill Seaberg was calm and confident under pressure on the basketball court.
Those traits helped the University of Iowa’s 1955-56 “Fabulous Five” basketball team record the first 20-win season in school history, win a second straight Big Ten title, and finish as national-runner-up to San Francisco.
The five senior starters on that team — Seaberg, Bill Logan, Carl Cain, Sharm Scheuerman, and Bill Schoof — had their numbers retired after the season.
Seaberg’s No. 22 hasn’t appeared for 63 seasons and 1,845 games, but that’s about to change. Seaberg has agreed to let incoming freshman forward Patrick McCaffery wear No. 22 starting next season. Once Patrick’s Iowa career ends, the number will go back into retirement.
When Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was at Siena, son Patrick’s favorite player was Ryan Rossiter. He wore No. 22, so that became Patrick’s favorite number.
But this is a story that runs deeper than a favorite number.
“Way deeper than that,” Patrick said. “It’s not just a number. No way. It’s always going to mean a lot to me.”
Patrick and Austin “Flash” Schroeder attended North Central (Iowa) Junior High together. Austin, a year older, favored baseball. Patrick’s sport was basketball. Austin’s favorite number was also 22.
And cancer touched both of their lives.
Patrick had surgery on March 19, 2014, to remove a tumor on his thyroid. On that same day, while on a family spring break trip to Mexico, Austin discovered a large lump in his groin.
Two days after Patrick’s surgery, doctors informed his family that the tumor was malignant. A second surgery was scheduled in April. That month, Austin started chemotherapy for T-Cell lymphoma.
Austin was 15 when he passed away on April 28, 2015. Patrick is a cancer survivor. He wore No. 22 throughout his Iowa City West career, when he passed former Hawkeye Glen Worley as the Trojans’ career scoring leader.
But wearing No. 22 is also a way for Patrick to honor his friend, Flash. Thanks to Seaberg’s kindness, that tribute will continue in college.
Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw, who knows Seaberg, was the first to reach out to the former Hawkeye and see if he would consider making his number available.
“According to Kirk, he’s an outstanding kid as well as a good basketball player,” said Seaberg, who lives in Evergreen, Colorado.
Seaberg agreed to let Patrick wear it, with the stipulation that it return to retired status after McCaffery’s playing career ends at Iowa.
“I thought if it would be helpful to the kid and mentally makes him stronger and a better player, that’s what I want to do,” Seaberg said.
Patrick wrote Seaberg a letter, explaining what No. 22 means to him.
“He wanted to honor his friend and also honor my number at the same time,” Seaberg said. “If that makes him a better player, then that’s great for Iowa basketball.”
Patrick said that writing the letter stirred memories of his late friend.
“I’ve been able to come to peace with it and remember what a special number it is,” Patrick said.
He added that Seaberg’s permission to wear the number “means everything. That number is special to me and now I get to wear it at the next level. Mr. Seaberg is a great man. He was very generous in letting me wear that number.”
Fran McCaffery appreciates Seaberg’s act of kindness.
“It was amazing when I talked to Bill, how it made me feel,” coach McCaffery said. “It’s important to him that his number is retired and he earned that right. I think when Patrick presented to Bill the circumstances around the number, he felt strongly that Patrick should have the opportunity to wear that number.”
So, No. 22 will be back, more than six decades after Seaberg scored 17 points in the national championship game March 23, 1956, in Evanston, Illinois. That is something Seaberg said he’ll feel good about, “as long as he does it in good faith and respects the number and what it stands for.”
That request for respect has been heard.
“That’s important to Bill, because he wore it with respect,” coach McCaffery said. “If anybody else is going to wear it, you want that person to wear it with the same ideology that he had, the same approach, and the same professionalism.
“I’m thrilled that Bill was excited to do it. He didn’t have to be talked into it. He thought, ‘You know, this is the right thing to do.’ The beauty of it is when Patrick’s done, it will go back to being retired.”