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Highlights of a Harvard preseason scrimmage from 2012 wouldn’t be noteworthy, except that, at times, Patrick Steeves thought it might be the only footage of him ever playing in a Harvard uniform — and maybe the last video of him ever shooting a basketball.
It did cross my mind. Maybe take on a manager role -- because it was a lot. But in the end, I don’t think I could have lived with myself not knowing what could have happened.Patrick Steeves
"I think I blew an open layup and then missed a three," Steeves recalls. "And then after that I got going."
More than three years later, Steeves still remembers exactly how many points he scored in that 20-minute scrimmage: 14, more than any other player on the court. Not bad for a freshman.
"I wasn’t the most highly touted recruit coming in," Steeves says. "To know that I could play with the team and compete at this high level was pretty satisfying."
'This Is Something Bad'
But in the weeks leading up to the team’s first regular season game, Steeves foot began to hurt. At first he thought it wasn’t serious. But then he got an MRI.
"I had a stress fracture in my foot," he says.
Steeves made it onto the practice court in January. But by the time he was back in playing shape, the season was nearly over.
He went home for the summer with zero minutes of playing time.
At the beginning of his sophomore year, Steeves returned to the court for another preseason scrimmage. During the game, he drove to the basket — and ended up on the trainers’ table.
“It felt like gun shots were going off in my knee,” he says. “And I knew right away, 'OK, this is something bad.' And [Harvard trainer] Craig [Fafara] pretty much told me right away, 'Yeah, you tore your ACL,'" Steeves says. "That day I completely broke down. Because with the foot you at least have a little bit of hope to get back for that season. With the ACL it’s just, 'Thanks for showing up. See you next year.'"
Steeves came back that next year, but his knee wasn’t quite right. Some days it felt OK — some days not.
"The sophomore season it was, ‘OK, you're out. You tore your ACL, you’re out,'" he says. "The junior season was, 'We'll try again next week. Oh, we'll try again in two weeks.'"
And then there were no more weeks. The season ended, and Steeves still hadn’t played in a game.
He thought about moving on.
“It did cross my mind. Maybe take on a manager role — because it was a lot,” he says. “But I don’t think I could have lived with myself not knowing what could have happened."
So Steeves had two more surgeries. Before going into that last operation, he told his roommate, “Third time’s a charm.”
“Yeah, at that point it was pretty much desperation mode,” he says. “So, if that surgery hadn’t gone right, then there’s pretty much nothing else to do. So, yeah, third time was a charm. I got lucky I guess.”
In the final minutes of a blowout win on Nov. 13, 2015 — exactly three years and a month after his promising preseason performance as a freshman — senior Patrick Steeves stepped onto the court. His coach says that in nearly 30 years on the sidelines, he doesn’t remember a player coming back after missing his first three years with injuries.
“It was crazy,” Steeves recalls with a laugh. “The whole bench got up and lost it.”
It soon became crazier. Steeves has emerged as one of the team’s best players.
At one point midway through the season, Steeves was the Crimson’s second-leading scorer — and the No. 7 three-point shooter in the country.
Before this season began, Steeves thought he might never recover from his injuries — not even to play rec league games. He had started interviewing for post-grad jobs at financial and consulting firms.
With any luck, he’ll have a chance to keep playing next year — either as a grad transfer at another college or in an international pro league. But for now, he’s just having a good time.
“Even though that initial kind of excitement and the jitters is gone — obviously that doesn’t last forever — every time I practice or I play it’s like, 'This is something that you’re really lucky to be a part of.'”
Updated on Feb. 12, 2016.
This story aired on January 30, 2016.
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