Only months ago third-year guard Nick Paquette faced a future filled with uncertainty after being diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) on April 29, 2017. Now, his bravery and resilience has earned him the State University Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Award of Valor.
Since 2003, the SUNYAC has presented this award to individuals who have used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome a life-altering event, and serve as a vessel of hope for others.
“A year ago I never imagined that I would be in the current position I am in,” Paquette said. “But I am fortunate and thankful to overcome my adversity and use my experience to serve as an inspiration to others.”
Less than a year after his diagnosis, Paquette helped to lead the Hawks in a much improved 2017-18 campaign, where the team improved in almost every statistical category. Paquette appeared in every contest this season and started 21-of-25 games. Additionally, he ranked fourth on the team in points with 183, averaging 7.3 points per game, in field goals made with 66 averaging 36.1 percent and ranked second in 3-pointers made (43) with an average of 35 percent.
Paquette was also featured on ESPN Longhorn network and ESPN.com for his letter, published on Yahoo Sports, to Texas University men’s basketball player Andrew Jones. Paquette heard about Jones’ case as he was leaving practice one afternoon after he received a text message from his mother, sharing the article.
After attempting to contact the University of Texas Athletic Department, Nick’s mother, Roxanne Paquette, got in touch with college basketball writer Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo Sports to send a message of hope to Jones and his family.
In his letter to Jones, Paquette recalls his own struggle of shock and terror at the time of his diagnosis.
“I read that you experienced persistent fatigue and exhaustion in the weeks leading up to your diagnosis. I know all too well what that’s like,” he wrote. “Every day last season, I felt tired and lethargic. I lacked my usual strength and explosiveness during games, and I’d come out of the locker room afterward sunken-eyed and ghostly pale. I’m 6-foot-3, and I often didn’t even have the energy to try to drive to the hoop or dunk.”
Although Paquette said he was terrified of his diagnosis, he was reassured by doctors that he would make a full long-term recovery and would even be able to return to the court if his body was able. In his letter, he offered Jones similar reassurance.
“Once I heard that, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would get back on the court, basketball is in my genes,” he said. “It has been my passion since kindergarten. I wasn’t going to let leukemia stop me from doing what I love.”
Paquette said that he is grateful that he is able to live his life to the fullest, and for the people that he has had by his side throughout his recovery, particularly his parents. He added that each day, he strives to better himself and hopes that his perseverance will inspire others to do anything they set their mind to.
“Everyone has their own personal struggles,” he said. “It’s important to be supportive of them because a little help can go a long way.”
Mike Agostino, men’s basketball head coach at Smithtown High School West said that the response to Paquette’s diagnosis was immediate and everyone that ever knew him and his family wanted to help in any way that they could.
“The outpour was incredible, not even just within Smithtown, we obviously had kids from New Paltz but we also had kids from surrounding towns that all wanted to take part just because they had known Nick,” he said. “He’s a well-liked kid, there’s no doubt about it.”
Head coach Keith Kenney said that he is impressed with the intimacy Paquette shared in his letter and is confident that it will be helpful to anyone in a similar situation.
“I think it’s an honor for ESPN to have Nick share his story with them,” he said. “We all go through bad times in life and most of us keep them private, but for Nick to want to share and help others just shows what a selfless, giving person he is.”