Saint Mary's senior Paul McCoy has seen his share of adversity during his college basketball career. The Portland, Ore. native played his first two years at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas before suffering a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore in early February, 2010. He transferred to Moraga that summer and appeared ready to hit the court last season before suffering another knee injury - this time during the team's second practice of the preseason.
After three knee surgeries and countless hours of rehabilitation and reflection, he finally suited-up and participated in preseason warm-ups before last week's home game against Cal Poly. He hopes to be cleared to play for the Gaels by the time WCC games begin in early January.
McCoy traveled with the team to Des Moines, Iowa for its game at Drake. SMCGaels.com caught-up with him for a quick conversation:
Q: How did it feel to finally put on a uniform and warm-up for a game with the team?
A: It felt good. It was a little bit of a tease to warm-up with the team knowing I was going to sit on the bench and not go into the game. It was a good experience, though, to get back into a routine with the team.
Q: When is the last time you suited up for a game?
A: Two-and-a-half years, almost three. The last time I put on a uniform was when I was injured at Southern Mississippi as a sophomore.
Q: Did you remember what to do last weekend in pregame warmups?
A: I was really just trying to follow the person in front of me since I hadn't done that since I've been at Saint Mary's. I didn't really have any strange emotions and I wasn't nervous because I knew I wasn't going to be able to play. It was fun to get out there with the team and go through pregame drills.
Q: When was the last time you went on a road trip?
A: Last year I was able to go to the NCAA Tournament with our team. Otherwise, it was that game at Southern Mississippi with SMU.
Q: Any differences this time? Particularly since it is a regular-season game and surely there are various routines that are unique to Saint Mary's.
A: It is a good feeling. I feel more of a part of the team. I have always felt part of the team, but being on the road gives me a strong feeling that I am getting closer to being able to play. It feels good that Coach Bennett is allowing me to travel with the team. We only have 11 guys on the trip and there are only 10 playing so it makes me feel even more confident about my place on the team.
Q: We don't want to harp on your initial injury, but what do you remember from that experience?
A: I was feeling good, was feeling fresh. I simply drove to the basket and when I jumped (the knee) just went out. Ever since then, I've had three surgeries. My knee feels a little better now. It is still a little nerve-wracking. I'm trying to improve my confidence, especially going to the rim and not thinking about it. The first time I hurt it, like I said, was more than two-and-a-half years ago and I've been trying to fight my way back ever since.
Q: You suffered another knee injury in the second practice of the season last year. What went through your mind when that happened?
A: I was frustrated. I was feeling really good last year. I went through all the conditioning. I did the (preseason) mile and I made all my times. I was feeling good. But, looking back, I think I was really fatigued and I was pushing it. We had a long practice on the first day and my legs were cramping toward the end. The next day, my legs were done but we were scrimmaging so I was pushing it. My legs were tight and I had my brace on. I was driving to the right and I tried to plant and go left and it just gave out. I felt it. I know what it feels like. Everyone was trying to be supportive but I knew what happened. That was frustrating because I was so close. I felt that I did everything right and I was ready. Everything was going good until that happened. Then, back to surgery.
Q: How did you keep motivated to continue to come back
A: Everybody tells me all the time about how hard a worker I am and how I've been able to keep my head on straight. But, the truth is that I've really struggled. People really don't see that because I always try to have a smile on my face. I struggled with confidence, mostly. I tend to overthink things. For example, if I work out and my knee hurts the next day I wonder if it is getting better - although I know it is. One of the things that pushes me is that I still believe I have a chance to play somewhere professionally. That motivates me. Being around the team and seeing them play - it isn't really jealousy - it's more like I tell myself that I really want to be out there with those guys. I've been here for three years and I want to bring something to the team. I'm trying to show leadership and encouragement since I'm a senior. But, I want to play. That has been pushing me to stay on it, stay focused. This is my last crack at it so I need to give it my all.
Q: So, let's change the subject. What are some of your hobbies outside of basketball?
A: I bought a ping pong table. I like playing that. I like eating, trying new places. I don't play video games that much anymore and I don't watch television, really. That's about it. School and basketball.
Q: So, ping pong, eh? Did you see Forrest Gump? How would you stack-up against him?
A: Ha! I tried that! He's crazy good. I'm not quite that good. I have a ways to go! But, my record right now on my table is 76-4.
Q: Wow, that's impressive! Who's your toughest competition?
A: Zach (Sanchez) is my roommate, so I play him. He isn't much of a challenge anymore. Our record is something like 46-2. He beat me twice. I call some of the fellas over to play. I brought Kyle (Rowley) over. Omar (Samhan) came over. I whooped up on them too. (Jordan) Giusti is a really good player so I'm going to try to get him over to play me.
Q: Who are some of the more competitive guys on the team?
A: Oh man, Giusti and Delly for sure! Delly and I made the final four on the table at coach's house in a team function recently. It was me versus (Marcus) Schroder and (Coach Rick) Croy against Delly. Delly is intense!
Q: Do you cook?
A: I don't really cook. The only meal I like to cook is breakfast. Potatoes, bacon, eggs, that kind of stuff. Zach, my roommate, cooks. He makes pasta and other stuff.
Q: They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, anyway, right?
A: Exactly, that's the one that matters the most!
Q: What are your academic interests?
A: I am a communications major. Next week is finals then I have capstone and quantitative methods left. So, I have just two more classes next semester and I will graduate.
Q: Saint Mary's is becoming kind of a (area code) 503 south. Who is the original 503 on the Gaels?
A: I am the original 503 on the team! We have Stephen Holt, Garrett Jackson and myself with Calvin Hermanson coming in next year. We are going to take over the Australians.
Q: Sounds like a ping pong matchup might in the works?
A: We are going to have to make that happen! Holt's leg is a little messed-up right now so I can't count on him to get around that table. So, we might have to wait a little.
Q: Thanks for spending some time with us. Good luck!
A: Thanks! Go Gaels!