Kentucky's Patrick Patterson Setting an Example for the Wildcats' Youth
LEXINGTON, Ky.—It turns out there’s a reason why, when Kentucky players and coach John Calipari huddled at mid-court Monday night to celebrate the program’s 2,000th win, it was junior Patrick Patterson that they collectively shoved forward and handed a microphone.
The Wildcats have an on-court leader—an easy choice—in freshman John Wall. But before the game, after the game, and in practice, the so-called spiritual leader is junior Patrick Patterson.
And it’s for many reasons.
“Here’s a kid that’s going to graduate in three years. Here’s a kid that comes every day to practice doing what he’s supposed to do,” Calipari said. “Also a young man that will defer to freshman. If they have it going, he’s fine. When it’s time for him to get it going, he steps up and gets it done.”
Only Patterson almost didn’t choose to take on his current role, as he could just as easily be an NBA-playing—maybe even starting—millionaire right now. Patterson was all but gone to the 2009 NBA Draft before Calipari was hired, joining former teammate Jodie Meeks.
Instead, he's become a key component in the Wildcats' run for the school’s eighth NCAA Title, something Patterson promised before a tumultuous 2008-2009 season when Kentucky finished a disappointing 22-14, accepted a bid to the NIT, and started a coaching search to replace Billy Gillispie.
With Kentucky sitting 12-0 and No. 3 in the country, Patterson can now consider the extended collegiate stay worthwhile.
“These past three years I’ve been here, it’s been a rollercoaster. This year is a lot of fun,” Patterson said, standing in front of the 24,354 fans at Rupp Arena Monday night.
It’s hard to dismiss what Patterson’s done on the court, too.
It didn't matter that Calipari was bringing in 6'10'' recruit Daniel Orton and 6'9'' DeMarcus Cousins to challenge for Patterson's starting spot. Didn't matter either that he most likely would have been one of only 65 prospects at the NBA's draft combine last May, as he was projected as first-round pick.
When Calipari came calling with the opportunity to bring the Wildcats back to prominence, Patterson wanted to be an integral part of it.
Next to Wall, he's done just that.
Patterson is the Wildcats' second leading scorer at 17.3 points per game and the team’s leading rebounder with 8.8 rebounds. He scored 18 points Monday night in Kentucky’s 88-44 win over Drexel. He’s even seen a change in his overall game as Kentucky knocked off North Carolina for a change of pace in Patterson’s junior season.
“I wanted to be able to beat top-ranked schools, especially North Carolina,” Patterson said of his decision to return. “I knew they would be on the schedule. I knew Louisville would be on the schedule. It's just another shot to get a victory.”
Coupled with Calipari's entrance and the implementation of the Dribble Drive Offense, Patterson now has the advantage of being more than a regular post player. He can settle for a mid-range jumper or choose to face the basket and drive at it. Even shots from the perimeter aren’t out of bounds.
Patterson had a hand in nine of Kentucky’s first 18 points against Drexel, and at that juncture, the Wildcats had already built a 13-point lead over the visiting Dragons. To cap Kentucky’s opening run, Patterson hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to complete a full showcase of his arsenal of skills.
Patterson hasn’t matched his statistical averages from last season, but surrounded by more talent and threatening backups, he’s come pretty close. Of all the stat stuffers on Kentucky’s roster, Calipari said Patterson may be the most unselfish.
“He has meant so much to the program and what we’re doing right now,” Calipari said. “He’s comfortable in his own skin, so he’s not worried about anyone else—and he’s happy for other people’s success. Think about that.
“The best players I’ve ever coached have been that way, and I’ve been blessed to say that my best players have been like him. But it’s great for our young players to watch and learn from him.”
Calipari said Patterson will have a chance to show his teammates what to do off the court less than 24 hours after he directed them on it.
“(Tuesday) we’ll take our team to children’s hospital,” Calipari said. “He will show the guys how to be. They’ll all be watching. They’ll watch what he does, they’ll listen to what he says.”
And the rest of the Wildcats will probably do the same when Kentucky returns to practice.
They’ll watch Patterson—how he handles himself and how he carries himself.
Because after an up-and-down career that‘s turned into the dream Patterson imagined when he chose Kentucky over Duke and Florida, he’s earned it.
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