PHOTO COURTESY OF MAJOR LEAGUE LACROSSE

Taking Hits: Dan Bucaro Won’t Let Any Injury Keep Him Down


Dan Bucaro stood five feet from the concrete wall on a handball court in the pitch black of a cold December night at Stony Brook, a short drive from his home in East Setauket, N.Y. Bucaro looked over at his father, Rich, who sat in the warmth of his blue Infiniti SUV and flicked on the headlights to illuminate the wall.

Layered in sweatshirts and wearing winter boots, Bucaro gripped the metal shaft of his lacrosse stick with bare hands in near-freezing temperatures. As the snow accumulated around him, Bucaro played catch with himself, whipping the ball against the wall while his father watched.

Bucaro never missed wall ball, not even as he recovered from the knee surgery that ended his junior season at Georgetown. Not even if it was 9 p.m. before he realized he had not gotten in his stick work for the day. 

“He’s very regimented,” said Mary Bucaro, Dan’s mother. “He wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night. He had to go do it.”

In April 2018, Bucaro tore the ACL in his right knee, forcing him to miss the first of two straight Big East championships at Georgetown. He played through a torn meniscus in the same knee as a senior the next year, but the injury would delay his Major League Lacrosse debut. Bucaro erased any notion that his skills had diminished by torching the competition this past summer, emerging as the MLL Rookie of the Year.

Drafted by the Denver Outlaws as the No. 9 overall pick in 2019, Bucaro rewarded the team’s patience by scoring 16 goals in six games during the MLL’s quarantined two-week season in Annapolis, Md. He had a hat trick in the July 26 championship game, a 13-10 loss to the Boston Cannons.

Bucaro’s performance prompted Chesapeake Bayhawks attackman Lyle Thompson, the 2019 MLL MVP, to tweet that Bucaro should have been an Offensive Player of the Year finalist over him.

“We drafted him, then found out he was going to have surgery and take a year to recover,” Outlaws coach Tony Seaman said. “He turned out to be everything we thought he’d be and better.”


“He turned out to be everything we thought he’d be and better.” — Tony Seaman


Bucaro started playing lacrosse when he was just 4. From the time he could barely cradle until his eighth-grade season, his father was his coach. Rich Bucaro, a financial advisor at Wells Fargo, played lacrosse at Cortland and coached Patriot Elite’s PAL and travel teams. When his son got to high school, Rich hung up his whistle to follow Dan’s rise as a nationally touted prospect at Ward Melville.

Bucaro led Ward Melville to a New York State Class A championship as a sophomore in 2013. He scored three goals in a 16-4 win over West Genesee, cementing the Patriots’ undefeated season and first state championship in 13 years. Shortly after that 56-goal, 30-assist campaign, Bucaro verbally committed to Georgetown, denying offers from Duke, Harvard, Cornell, Virginia, Princeton and Brown.

But Bucaro’s first two years at Georgetown were disappointing. The Hoyas went 2-12 in the 2016 season and 4-10 in 2017. That’s why it stung so badly when he tore his ACL in 2018 as a junior. Georgetown had started the season 6-0 and would finish without Bucaro on a five-game winning streak that included a victory over Denver in the Big East championship game. The Hoyas advanced to the NCAA tournament, where they had Johns Hopkins on the ropes before falling 10-9 in overtime.

“We have a chance to actually make it to the finals and win it,” Bucaro said. “We had one of the best teams out there and I got hurt. It was just so upsetting. I'd love to be out there.”

Bucaro still remembers the play that ended his season. He extended his right knee the wrong way while trying to stop short and avoid getting decked by a Villanova defender. He evaded the hit, but not before his knee popped and then got laid flat anyway. Days later, the MRI confirmed what Bucaro feared most: his ACL was torn.

Bucaro was less concerned with the relatively routine surgery and more with how he could help Georgetown while sidelined. He started to stretch his teammates, fill up water bottles, watch film and give advice on plays or moves to try.

“He became player, coach, manager, student trainer all into one,” Hoyas trainer Erin Pettinger said.

Whenever Rich asked Dan about his “bad knee,” his son always replied, “I don’t have a bad knee.” To prove it, Bucaro won Georgetown’s run test the season after his ACL surgery.

“Dan looks up to Rich,” Mary Bucaro said. “If he ever has trouble in lacrosse, he asks Rich for help. Rich has always helped him.”

When Bucaro was younger, his dad advised him to practice 15 minutes per day to slowly but surely get better. Mary said Bucaro always insisted on doing more than that. He may have become a beast on the field, but few knew his gentle side or who he was in his school’s lunchroom.

During his senior year at Ward Melville, Bucaro left his friends and normal lunch spot to sit with a student who was eating alone every day.

“The only reason we even found out he did this was because the dean of the school called our parents and told them,” said Clare Bucaro, Dan’s older sister. “He doesn’t do anything for show.”

Seaman could see Bucaro was more than just a scoring machine.

“There are three things we look at when we decide on what players we want to draft,” Seaman said. “No. 1 is family background.”








Bucaro’s oldest sister, Katie, who is now 33, drives a blue 2009 Honda CRV with a Georgetown sticker on the back. She attended a handful of Georgetown games each year her brother was on the team, and said it was a special place to be.

“His team became Dan’s family, and his team’s family became our family,” Katie Bucaro said.

Growing up, Bucaro said his two older sisters treated him the way he thinks an older brother would treat a little brother.

“They tormented me, but it was fun,” he said. “They’re loud, energetic and would dress me up for plays in our basement.”

The Bucaro family’s noise volume never went unnoticed at Dan’s games. Pettinger said her eyes were always focused on the game, but she knew Katie and Clare were there because of how loud they were.

“It was in the most positive light, like, ‘Let’s go boys!’” Pettinger said. “You could always hear them.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF MAJOR LEAGUE LACROSSE


Seaman said the other things he looks for in a draft prospect are where the draftee can help the team the most and, lastly, the player’s success on the field. Bucaro got straight A’s in all three categories: He has a family that lives for his success, unmatched athleticism and two Big East championships under his belt. Seaman selected Bucaro in the first round of the MLL draft March 9, 2019.

A month later, Georgetown was on the brink of a second-half comeback against Loyola when Bucaro heard the same dreaded noise out of his right knee.

Pop.

“Thank god it was my meniscus,” he said.

Unlike his ACL tear, Bucaro could still play with a torn meniscus. The Hoyas went on another late-season tear, again defeating Denver in the Big East championship game.

“Winning the Big East in 2018 was kind of hard because I couldn’t play,” Bucaro said. “It was awesome to win, but there was a drive in me to win another one for 2019 and make the playoffs. So I was really happy when we did. It’s one of the best moments in my lacrosse career so far.”

Bucaro finished his senior season as Georgetown’s top scorer with 61 goals and 26 assists. Playing with a torn meniscus, he scored eight unassisted goals in his last college lacrosse game, a 19-16 loss to defending national champion Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament. His 153 career goals are a school record.

“Dan is and was our best player,” Pettinger said. “One of the best in Georgetown history. He left a legacy here.”

Bucaro underwent surgery to repair his meniscus, forcing him to miss all of the 2019 MLL season. Making his debut the next summer, Bucaro scored 13 goals on 27 shots and impressed Seaman with his demeanor off the field.

“He’s one of the guys that I would love to have as a son and would’ve been very proud to have as a son,” Seaman said. “He’s a terrific young man.”

Two knee injuries and recoveries led Bucaro here — to broken records and amassed distinctions, to a deeper understanding of the game he loves, teammates who became family and family that became his biggest support system.

“It was one heck of a ride,” Bucaro said. “I wouldn't change it for anything.”