Thu, 02/18/2010 - 14:08 — Jason Brubaker
As the 2009 NBA Draft rolled around, there was one name conspicuously absent - Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson. This had to be a mistake, right? After all, Patterson was a McDonald's All-American in high school, had a terrific freshman year, and then had upped his averages to 17 points and nine board per game as a sophomore. He received All-American nominations, and was a lock to be selected in the first round. He had no reason to come back to school. Besides, playing second, or third, or even fourth fiddle to Kentucky's heralded freshmen would only hurt his draft stock, right?
Although his scoring and rebounding numbers have dropped, Patterson's NBA stock is now higher than ever, thanks to a chance to showcase his all-around game, unselfishness, and leadership on a young team. And, following two frustrating seasons under Billy Gillispie, and having never played in an
NCAA Tournament game (he missed UK's 2008 game against Marquette due to injury), Patterson now heads into March with a legitimate chance to cut down the nets as a national champion. For a guy who spent last March watching the Big Dance on television, it has to feel good.
Coming into the season, some wondered how Patterson would mesh with uber-hyped recruits like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Would he be okay playing a supportive role, even though he had every right to demand to be the star? Would his game be affected with Cousins occupying the paint with
him? Would he be able to adapt to John Calipari's offense after two years of Gillispie's high-low attack?
Turns out, there has been little need for worry. By all accounts, Patterson is, and has been, a team-first guy his entire career. Even amidst the turmoil of last season, Patterson never let his frustrations show, always playing the role of the good soldier and letting his play do the talking. This season, instead of worrying about declining stats or the spotlight shining upon his teammates, he has taken on the role of a leader and counselor. He's usually the first one to gather his teammates in a huddle on the floor, and he can be often seen dishing out advice to the freshmen during stoppages in play. And we've even seen something from Patterson that was very rare last year...smiles.
But don't confuse Patterson for an-over-the-hill veteran who's merely passing on knowledge to his teammates. Time and time again, he's proven that he's still the same All-American caliber talent he was the last two years. It's just that this year, he has been able to pick his spots more, and his overall game has improved as a result.
His field attempts have decreased this year overall, and his shooting percentage is down slightly, from 60 percent to 57 percent. However, when you consider that the team is playing at a much faster pace than in previous years (81.3 points per game compared to 74.1 in 2008-09 and 68.5 in 2007-08), and Patterson is playing more on the perimeter than ever before, it makes sense to have a few more missed shots. His teammates still have confidence in him to hit the big shots however, as evidenced by his baseline jumper on Tuesday that sent the game against Mississippi State into overtime.
Of course, Patterson has also added another weapon to his repertoire – the three pointer. In his first two years on campus, with no other post presence, Patterson was rooted under the basket and attempted only four shots from beyond the arc, making exactly none. This year? He's nailed 18, and is shooting 40 percent from behind the line, not bad for a guy who's 6'9” and has the physique of a bodybuilder.
Between his willingness to cede shots and attention to his teammates, and his expanded game, Patterson has seen his draft status steadily climb all year. Pegged as a probably mid-to-late first rounder last year, it now appears likely that Patterson will find himself in the lottery this year. He's still got the size, athleticism and strength to play in the post, but he's now shown the ability to step away from the basket and play in an up-tempo offense, which will serve him well in the NBA. He's also shown the ability to function when he's not the top option on the floor, and his team-first attitude will be a welcome fit on many NBA rosters.
It seems odd, that Patterson could see his numbers go down but his stock go up, but it's also fitting. He's a guy who has done everything right in his UK career so far, both on and off the floor, and it's finally paying off for him, with a great season and a brighter-than-ever future.
It's also a great lesson for young college stars, who feel that big stats are the quickest way to the NBA. By sacrificing his stats for the betterment of the team, Patterson has shown that big numbers don't always translate to success. By embracing his teammates instead of resenting the attention they receive, he's helped set the tone for a team that is on the verge of doing something very special. And because of that, he's going to reap the rewards, with a possible NCAA title and a pretty hefty paycheck in the NBA.
So next time you glance over the NCAA's leading scorers, or scan down the list of the country's leading rebounders, don't confuse those names with the best players in the country. As Patterson has proven, sometimes less is more.