Battling a Knee Slow to Heal with a Spirit That Won’t Die

Paul scoring his first points in a Gael uniform during a recent game vs. USD (photo by Andrew Nguyen By Connor Buestad (

For the better part of Paul McCoy’s life, no athletic feat seemed out of reach. Blessed from a young age with explosive quickness and breathtaking body control, McCoy enjoyed a remarkable high school career as a three-sport athlete in Oregon, competing in basketball, football and track. After winning the Oregon State Championship in basketball as a senior, he went on to Southern Methodist University, where he became the first SMU freshman in history to lead his team in scoring. Even at a shade under six feet tall, McCoy quickly established himself as the big man on campus. The game seemed to come easy to him, the sky was the limit.

McCoy had his sights set on a possible career in the NBA until one fateful day during his sophomore year in college. He went up hard for a layup, and an excruciating pain shot through his right knee. That’s when everything changed.

The ACL was torn, and for the past three years, McCoy has been a prisoner to a knee that has refused to fully heal. Since February 2010, he has gone under the knife four times and has been in and out of training rooms and rehab facilities.

“Paul is definitely battle tested,” explains teammate Kyle Rowley. “What’s it been? Four surgeries? Coming back from that is not easy. He’s put in a ton of work.”

After transferring from SMU, McCoy is now in his senior year at Saint Mary’s – and eager to return to the court. McCoy was expected to play for the Gaels last year, before reinjuring his knee on the second day of preseason practice. Fortunately the rolling hills of Moraga have served as a nurturing backdrop for a tireless recovery process filled with starts and stops, ups and downs.

“It’s weird, coming from SMU, this is like a totally different school,” said McCoy. “It’s more than just basketball. It’s the stuff we do outside of basketball. It’s a team. So much credit goes to Coach Bennett and how he runs things here.”

Despite his long layoff, McCoy still shows superstar qualities. Quick with a smile and always engaging in conversation, he displays a confidence level and sense of pride that rubs off on everyone he’s around. No wonder: He has succeeded in big games and huge moments. But he still wants one more chance to compete at the highest level.

Now, after years of rehabilitation and recovery, it looks like his time has finally come to return to the hardwood, this time in a Gael uniform.

“I can only control how much effort I put into it,” he said. “It’s more on Coach Bennett, having faith and trust in whatever role he gives me. At this point, with four surgeries and sitting out for three and a half years, I’ll do anything to stay on the court.”

No matter what kind of results he sees on the floor this year, though, it’s likely that the Gael community won’t soon forget the character and resolve Paul McCoy has exhibited in his quest to return to the game he loves.