I now hereby join the Patrick Patterson lovefest.
Almost two years ago to the day, Patrick Patterson picked up a mother-approved khaki Kentucky cap and placed it on his yet fro-less head. Whether he knew it or not, he would be the face of an era of Kentucky basketball most unique in its matriculation. No one could have told us the impact that Patterson would have on our program, not that we would have believed anyway. We gathered online and on the airwaves that day in hopes of garnering the commitment of a big man our basketball team desperately needed, but little did we know the kind of commitment we would get.
For the last two seasons we watched as Patterson exemplified everything a Cat fan could want in a player, a blend of toughness and talent and unyielding focus rarely seen in today’s college basketball world. Most superstars take what they can get from the school that rents them and scurry off to the riches promised them since they were Billy Gillispie recruits taking cootie shots as a required immunization. With the way Patterson had his NCAA tournament dreams stolen away first by injury and then by the perilous fall from grace of his now departed coach, he could have just as easily stolen away to the NBA and not one of us would have blamed him. Instead, he reminded us of something we knew all along. Patrick Patterson is no ordinary superstar.
There is much risk in Patrick’s decision to return to school. While not guaranteed to be taken in the lottery, he was an almost assured first-round pick and, as well-documented, could see his draft status drop next season due simply to the quality of the class around him. He is returning to a system where he won’t be in his comfort zone and will no longer be the overwhelming focus of the offense. His scoring numbers will almost certainly take a hit next year as a result of that and the overall increase in talent of the team, particularly on offense, lends itself to more balanced scoring. To be sure, his game could develop and flourish under Coach Calipari. What made the decision most difficult and in the end most admirable, though, is that the shift in system could expose any weaknesses for NBA scouts and the world to see, in addition to the possibility of an injury that could derail his plans. These are all things Patterson knew and considered before ultimately deciding he would return for his third season in Lexington. At least, I hope he thought of all that stuff, because if I was the first one to tell him and he decides to change his mind I’m gonna be pretty peeved at myself. I digress. The important thing is that Patterson sat a table like two years ago and chose Kentucky over perhaps more glamorous options, confidently declaring once again that his heart is in the Bluegrass.
The effects of Patterson’s decision will be immense not just for this year’s team but the program as a whole. It tells future recruits that Kentucky is a school worth more than a one-act performance on the grand stage it presents to display NBA talents. It is a special place to play college basketball, like very few others. Inside the lines, Patterson’s war-like approach to practice may be just the example needed to get the most out of Daniel Orton and uber-talented but possible ‘Randolph Morris-itis’ carrier DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not a stretch to say that the pair of star freshmen won’t see a better big man on an opposing team than the one they see in practice every day. Of course, the chance to compete for a national title and improve his game were some of the benefits of coming back he spoke of, and the desire to finish his degree was also an important factor. So too was the experience of another year at Kentucky, “being Patrick Patterson,” as the will-be three-year graduate coyly admitted that he won’t mind at all one more season of, “all the love I get from the Kentucky fans.” We certainly won’t mind giving it to him.
In classic Patterson fashion, though, the attention was deflected from himself quickly, as the Player of the Year candidate (start the website UK Athletics…it’s safe to come out now) repeatedly mentioned his teammates as a big reason he wanted to return, citing the chemistry the team had formed and then avoiding the questions on whether he would have returned under the previous regime like Rick Pitino is avoiding the light of day. I almost chuckled when he mentioned how excited he was to play with next year’s recruits, as if the recruits weren’t already excited enough for the whole gang of us. Welcome, fellas, to the Final Four caliber team this decision creates. Eric Bledsoe, I don’t know if you knew something we didn’t know, but man, s*** is right in the Bluegrass right now.
One of Coach Calipari’s staggering number of tweets read, in part, “My hope is that the extra year helps him more than us.” With what the big man has done for the Kentucky program, there is little more he can give us. He will go down as one of the best ever, a glowing example of all that Kentucky basketball can be, although the significance of his time here may even be lost on Patrick himself. When the guy that retires jerseys comes back from what I assume has been a hell of a lunch break, Patterson’s name will eventually hang in the rafters at Rupp, an honor bestowed upon few. And, while his return will see his statistics rise to the top tier and likely earn him a banner alongside the bluest bloods of Kentucky royalty, Patrick Patterson didn’t come back for that. He put the NBA on hold so he could help decorate Rupp with a couple of other banners first. I for one can’t wait to see what he does with the place.