|Despite a scary diagnosis in the spring, Paquette has not missed a beat this season for the Hawks.
Reid Dalland Photography
Nick Paquette was helping his father with some yard work around the house last spring, something many college students do during their spring breaks.
What happened to Paquette next on that April day, however, was anything but typical. Paquette, then a sophomore at SUNY New Paltz and guard on the men's basketball team, accidentally glanced upward toward the sun. The split-second movement left him with a blind spot in his vision, one he couldn't blink or rub away.
"Usually you just blink and they go away," Paquette said. "This stuck around for two weeks."
Concerned with the lingering effect, Paquette visited an eye doctor once back at New Paltz. The nurse's reaction didn't exactly comfort him, as she immediately referred Paquette to a retina specialist. That specialist echoed the nurse's concern and suggested Paquette go for blood tests. The results shocked Paquette; on April 29, 2017, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a rare form of blood-cell cancer.
Paquette's parents immediately took him to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., for treatment. According to Paquette, CML originates in the bone marrow and only occurs after a mutation of two chromosomes, which causes the body's white blood cell count to mutate and multiply at an alarming rate.
To put it in perspective, a normal person typically has roughly 7,000 white blood cells in their body. When Paquette was checked into the ICU, his white blood cell count was about 400,000. Such a high count literally clogged Paquette's bloodstream and prevented him from healing naturally from injuries.
That helped explain the constant fatigue and weakness Paquette lived with his entire sophomore year. It also explained why a simple bump to his hip flexor during a game left an unexpected result.
"I bruised all the way down my leg," Paquette said. "That shouldn't have happened."
Paquette was admitted to the ICU to begin chemotherapy, which was supplemented by a plasmapheresis machine, which helped cleanse his blood cells. The week-long process drained the 20-year-old Paquette, causing the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard to lose 25 pounds.
|Just making it back on the court was a success, but Paquette continues to exceed expectations.
Photo by Marissa Contelmo
Paquette's immediate concern was his own well-being, but he also wondered if he'd ever step foot on a basketball court again.
"When I was initially diagnosed, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to play again, so obviously that was on my mind," Paquette said.
CML is more far common in people 60 years and older, a group that includes NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with whom Paquette shares a doctor. Paquette, a 20-year-old college athlete in excellent physical condition, was given a positive long-term outlook. Doctors told him he could play basketball again, if he wanted to. And you better believe Paquette wanted to.
His first week home after the hospital stay was mostly spent in bed, but by the second week, Paquette needed to get outside. He needed to feel a basketball in his hands.
"My dad came out and just started rebounding for me," Paquette said. "Maybe I shot 10 (free throws) and then I was too tired. But each day after that, I did a little more."
Soon after that, he began walking regularly. That turned into jogging around the neighborhood, which turned into lifting weights, which turned into eating more. A month and half after being released from the hospital, Paquette played in his first pickup game. Paquette even completed the finals he missed from the spring semester over the summer to qualify for the Dean's list. By the time the fall semester rolled around in August, Paquette was feeling better than he had in recent memory.
"So far, so good," Paquette said. "My white blood cell count is continuing to lower and be at a normal level."
Paquette takes a strict regimen of pills every day and has consistent medical checkups every three months. He'll likely need to continue treatment for at least 5-10 years, but doctors are encouraged, if not impressed, by how quickly he's adapted.
"From what I'm told by his parents, doctors are amazed that he's actually playing college basketball," said first-year New Paltz head coach Keith Kenney. "Most kids that have it, and he probably will never say this, they struggle to get through a day."
"The fact that he's back playing and starting, and actually playing pretty well, is amazing," Kenney added.
Paquette is one of just three players, along with senior forward Brandon Guest and junior point guard Cory Garcia, to start all 13 of the Hawks' games this season. Paquette ranks second on the team in minutes (23.9 per game), second in scoring (9.9 points), second in rebounds (4.7), and first in 3-point percentage (42.7 percent).
Under Kenney, a former standout player for the Hawks, the current assistant athletic director, and the first alum to coach the men's basketball team, New Paltz has stressed simplifying things to create a more positive environment. The Hawks finished 1-23 last season and haven't finished above .500 since the 1998-99 season.
That history doesn't matter to Kenney or Paquette. The team is off to a 4-9 start this season, which is encouraging, but it's about more than the win-loss record; it's about a fresh start.
"I just admire him," Kenney said. "I can't believe what he's going through."
Kenney encourages his players to always embrace a positive mindset. No one better exhibits that than Paquette.
"Wins and losses, it happens in sports, but just stepping out on the court every single day, that's a win in my book," Paquette said. "Just being able to be blessed and be out on the court again and playing the sport I love, that means the world to me."
RIT women notch key conference win
Junior guard Cori Okada tallied a career-high 28 points, including 10 in overtime, and senior guard Jessica Glaz added 16 points as RIT tallied a key 77-68 road win over Ithaca.
Both teams entered the game with identical 4-0 Liberty League, but RIT's win, coupled with Skidmore's loss to Vassar, put the Tigers alone atop the conference standings at 5-0. The win improved RIT's overall record to 10-1, with its lone defeat coming against No. 7 Rochester.
RIT put together a banner season in 2016-17, winning the program's first Liberty League title and clinching its first-ever NCAA berth. The NCAA run ended in the first round, ironically enough, against Ithaca, then still in the Empire 8.
One year later, the Tigers and Bombers figure to battle down to the wire for the Liberty League crown.
Morrisville State men chasing another NCAA berth
The Morrisville State men's basketball team has reached the NCAA tournament in four of its last six seasons, and came within one game of reaching the dance a fifth time in that span. The Mustangs have gotten used to the taste of the postseason.
Through their first 12 games this season, the Mustangs stand at just 5-7, having already tied last season's loss mark (22-7). But the path to the postseason is still clear: win the NEAC and punch your ticket.
Morrisville State is 3-1 in conference play, with wins against SUNY Cobleskill, Penn College, and Wells, and an overtime loss to Keuka. The team is young, but not inexperienced. Sophomore forward Kevin Dennis, sophomore guard Tyrin Miller, and sophomore forward Derek Beames all saw consistent minutes as freshmen. Combined with senior guard Trent Ward, freshman forward Brison Hall, junior guard Kyle Peck, and freshman guard Stefan Marchlewski, the Mustangs have a core capable of another run.
The Mustangs continue conference play this week, traveling to face Penn State-Berks on Saturday.
Top 25 roundup: Rochester women move up
The Rochester women's team climbed three spots to No. 7 in this week's D3hoops.com Top 25 poll. The Yellowjackets have now won six straight, including a regional win over RIT and a double-overtime win against UAA foe Emory last week.
Geneseo and Ithaca both continued to receive votes in the women's poll.
The Rochester men fell out of the top 25, but continued to receive votes in this week's poll. Skidmore also continued to receive votes.
Have a story idea? A fun stat? Just want to talk some hoops? I'm always happy to hear from a fellow D-III fan. I can be reached via email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @Andrew_Lovell.