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Teen with cancer to play for Bellarmine against Louisville

In his 38 years in college basketball, Scott Davenport has made his fair share of home visits.

None better, though, than the one the Bellarmine University coach made this week.

He knocked on the door at the Louisville home of Patrick McSweeney, a player Davenport has known for two years now. He had a jersey, warm-ups, and sneakers for McSweeney to wear, and an offer.

“I said, ‘Coach [Rick] Pitino and I had a draft and since he had a better season than us, I got the first pick. You’re playing on our team on Sunday," Davenport said.

Patrick McSweeney isn’t listed on any recruiting sites. He’s just 15.

He has life-threatening leukemia.

And on Sunday at 12:30 he’ll be introduced as a starter against his favorite college basketball team, the University of Louisville, in an exhibition game.

“It’s the boost he needs right now," Debbie McSweeney, Patrick’s mother. “Just this week we found out his T cells aren’t being effective and for us to get this news, a day after some really bad news, it’s what he needed. It’s what we all needed right now, to have a little bit more hope."

The extraordinary gesture comes on the heels of Lauren Hill’s inspirational appearance in a Division III basketball game that was moved up to accommodate her ongoing battle with cancer.

But Davenport hatched his own idea months ago, looking for a way to honor and celebrate a person he believes has taught his team so much.

Two years ago, Team IMPACT, the Boston-based nonprofit that matches chronically ill children with local college teams, reached out to Davenport about McSweeney.

Originally diagnosed at the age of five, the St. Xavier High School student – nicknamed the Fighting Irishman by his family – has endured three recurrences of the disease, endless rounds of chemotherapy, as well as bone marrow and T-cell transplants in his decade-long fight.

The coach was admittedly stunned, wondering why his tiny school was chosen instead of one of the local bluebloods in the Bluegrass State.

“Patrick told me, ‘Well, everybody likes your players. There’s no rivalry," Davenport said with a laugh.

Bellarmine, a Division II school, immediately absorbed McSweeney into their program and this past summer, he was well enough to even attend a basketball camp there.

That was in July.

A month later, McSweeney was in Philadelphia, receiving a T-cell transplant from his older brother, Joey.

Between the camp and the treatment, Davenport hatched the idea of allowing McSweeney to actually participate in a game. He started the laborious process of working through all of the necessary red tape, contacting his own Great Lakes Valley Conference, the ACC and ultimately the NCAA for approval.

Just this Wednesday afternoon, he got the official OK. Davenport had an old uniform cut down to size, found a pair of sneakers, and called McSweeney’s parents.

They suggested he come to the house to make his pitch, happily keeping their son in the dark about the plan.

“Patrick was just speechless," Debbie McSweeney said. “Basketball is this kid’s favorite sport. Having Bellarmine, having something that’s normal, that’s the key. With all of these treatments, all the isolation, normal disappears."

McSweeney will take part in the entire day – from the pregame meal, to the walkthrough, to the bus ride to the arena, to, if all goes well, the first bucket.

“He’s going to blow by Terry Rozier, go by Chris Jones and score a layup,’’ Davenport said. “We’ll just be sure to tell Montrezl Harrell not to block it."

Reality is scheduled to come back with a thud not long after the exhibition game ends. McSweeney has to be in Philadelphia on Monday for an experimental treatment, reserved for patients who don’t respond to chemotherapy.

The family thought he’d only be there for one night but with the news that his T cells weren’t responding properly, he now will be away for at least two weeks. Originally they planned to directly from the Yum! Center and make the 14-hour drive, so they’d have a car, a drive Debbie McSweeney was admittedly dreading.

“Coach Pitino said, ‘No, they’re not driving,’" Davenport said.

The Louisville coach is flying the family there, making sure they have transportation, and paying for their hotel stay.

“The only thing that’s left is to make sure we fill the place," Davenport said. “If people have a ticket, show up. If you don’t have a ticket, get one."