On March 31st, Golden State Warriors guard Patrick McCaw suffered what looked like a season-ending, if not career-ending, injury. McCaw, a depth player for the Warriors and former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel, landed hard on his back after going for a dunk against the Kings. It didn’t look good. Fast forward to today, and McCaw is a two-time NBA champion after the Warriors swept out the lifeless Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

The player who undercut him on the play, veteran Vince Carter, had sheer terror in his eyes as he looked on at a young, up-and-coming player in the NBA grimacing in agonizing pain. Some critics said they felt Carter’s play was dirty. Head coach of the Warriors Steve Kerr could even be heard through the microphone speaking to officials, saying “I’m not mad at you (to the refs), I am mad at Vince, he knows better.” Of course, some expletives were also sprinkled in there as well, but I digress.

“He has a bright future,” said Carter, a veteran 13-time all-star shooting guard who was the Golden State Warriors’ first round draft pick back 1998. “I don’t play the game that way. To see a young guy laying down there, it’s an unfortunate situation. Regardless of how it happened, the accident, all of the things that they were telling me, you still want to see him okay.”

McCaw told many people this was “the toughest pain he ever felt” while many wondered if the same Patrick McCaw would even play basketball ever again. McCaw knew the play by Carter was not intentional, and even tweeted to Carter a few days later saying he knew there was no dirty intent. Somehow, some way, McCaw avoided any neurological damage to his back or spine, and was diagnosed with a lumbosacral bone bruise. Still, a scary moment to be sure.

Anyone who watched McCaw play back at UNLV would tell you he was the team’s most savvy player on the court. Whether it was reading the defense to get a steal, or dealing a sweet dish to a teammate for an easy bucket, McCaw was simply a game changer.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebel fans haven’t had a whole lot to be ecstatic about the last few seasons. When Pat McCaw was a sophomore at UNLV, Runnin’ Rebel fans saw a talented guard averaging almost 15 points a game, a little less than three steals a game — top three in the country for a majority of the season —  and hit many clutch shots down the stretch of many games to put UNLV ahead. He put his team on his back.

He did it…ALL the time.

Ironically, it was his back that gave out against the Kings on March 31st, maybe in part to putting the UNLV basketball program on his back for two years. I was personally at the game against UNR back in 2016 when he made a shot from practically half court as time was expiring to send the game to overtime, which UNLV ended up winning. If Rebel fans didn’t realize the type of player McCaw was before that night, they did after that.

McCaw is still looking for a regular starting role with the Warriors. Unfortunately, with guys like Durant, Curry, Green, Thompson, and other studs on that superstar roster, McCaw will have to wait his turn. When Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser was asked about the type of player Pat McCaw is, he responded with three words: “versatility, length, character.” McCaw’s ability to defend at an elite level made him one of the best in the NCAA, and that is a key reason why he is in the NBA.

McCaw made his return against the Cavs when the Warriors were on their way to another championship title. Even though McCaw played a limited role in the series, averaging four points a game, basketball fans and UNLV fans were just happy to see him playing again.

As McCaw continues to grow in his second year in the NBA, he is apart of a second straight NBA championship. Even though I have no connection to the Bay Area, or the two teams in the NBA Finals, how could you not root for a guy like McCaw?

A few months ago, some watched the injury he suffered against the Kings and wondered if he’d ever play again, or even walk again, for that matter. Now, McCaw is a two-time NBA Champion. Even though he is not putting up the numbers like Durant or Curry, getting a chance to learn under those players will surely pay dividends for him in his future.

Who knows, if McCaw does see more playing time and become a star, how fun will it be for UNLV fans to say “Yeah, I saw him play back in the day at the Thomas & Mack?” UNLV basketball could use some good press these days, and — with the Vegas Golden Knights stealing their thunder — perhaps a few big time program alumni will step up and share the spotlight.