Au Revoir, Mr. Patterson

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If there’s one thing that bothers me about UK’s recent return to the national spotlight, it’s that there’s an entire nation of Big Blue Bandwagoners out there that will never have the kind of appreciation for Patrick Patterson that he deserves.  All those front-runners walking the streets of Los Angeles and New York (and Louisville), sporting John Wall #11 and DeMarcus Cousins #15 jerseys and Calipari’s Cats t-shirts will never know that, if it weren’t for Patterson, the Wall-Cousins-Calipari season may have never happened.  It’s ironic, really: the best recruiting class in school history overshadowed, in his final season in Lexington, maybe the most important recruit in school history.

……….

Patterson’s commitment was a Godsend in its own right.  Looking back, it’s miraculous that we even had a chance:

1) It came down to us and Florida – a school that was coming off back-to-back National Titles and a coach that’d just rejected an offer from Kentucky to stay in Gainesville.

2) Ditto for Jai Lucas.  Patterson and Lucas were perceived as a package deal, and Lucas signed his LOI with Florida just a week prior.

3) The recruitment of Patterson (and Lucas) was largely the job of Tubby Smith.  Patterson’s parents loved Tubby.  Thanks to Huntington’s close proximity to Lexington, Tubby got an early jump on Patterson and even attended a handful of Patterson’s home games during his junior and senior years of high school.  Of course, Tubby Smith left Kentucky shortly after the end of the ’07 season and shortly before Patterson was set to make his decision.

4) Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie, a fiery Gary Sinise look-a-like from Texas who’d had zero contact with Patterson before his hire.

5) Depending on whether you want to base your decision on his time at Kentucky or at A&M/UTEP, Gillispie may not have been the recruiter we thought we were hiring.  Despite having a rep as a strategic, tenacious recruiter while in Texas, Gillispie did just about everything he could to set fire to that claim and take an uzi to its ashes while in Lexington.

Because of the rough way Gillispie went out at UK, it’s hard to remember how off-the-fucking-charts hot he was when he started.  If there’s anything worth salvaging from the Billy Gillispie era, it’s his first two months on the job and the way he secured Patterson’s commitment.

Against all odds, Clyde came in, picked up where Tubby Smith left off, and sold Patterson on being the centerpiece of a new era of Kentucky Basketball.  During his first visit with the Pattersons, Gillispie (while presumably hiding the fact that he was a Kiefer Sutherland-level alcoholic) famously showed the family a schedule that detailed how Patrick would be spending every minute of every day for the next four years if he came to Lexington.  This caliber of organizational skill made a distinct impression on the Patterson family, and their son committed to Gillispie and the ‘Cats a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good times ended for BCG at Kentucky.

And if Kentucky fans think Clyde’s two seasons at Kentucky were a disaster with Patterson, can you even imagine how bad they would’ve been without him?  Patterson was the only think keeping Clyde and Kentucky from achieving Matt Doherty At North Carolina-levels of disaster, and for that he should never have to pay for a drink in the Commonwealth again.

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Patterson was a fan favorite from the get-go.  On top of being the first McDonald’s All-American we’d signed in three years, he was a blue-collar power forward and legitimetely good kid.  An excellent rebounder with a way-underrated scoring prowess (probably because he played his senior season with O.J. Mayo), Patterson immediately became our go-to guy on offense and most reliable rebounder, as well as the de facto team leader and face of the program.  He averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds on a team that went 18-13, and probably would’ve had even better numbers were it not for a stress fracture that handicapped him for much of the season and kept him out of the lineup for the final six games.  As if it were’t impressive enough that Patterson did all that as a freshman, he did it with 1) Jodie Meeks (the team’s best perimeter scoring threat) going down early in the year, 2) Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley (the team’s two main contributing seniors) being in Gillispie’s doghouse for the first half of the season, and 3) Derrick Jasper (the team’s expected starter at point guard) coming off knee surgery and never being anywhere near full-strength.  Translation: No Patterson, no nothing.  Without him, that team doesn’t get near .500.

A healthy Jodie Meeks (23.7/game) gave Patterson the perimeter threat he needed in his sophomore season, and he responded by averaging 17.9 points (on an insane 60.3% from the field), 9.3 rebounds, and just over two blocks per contest.  You’d think a one-two punch like Meeks and Patterson would’ve been enough for Kentucky to have a drastic improvement in the Win-Loss column, but you’d be comically wrong.  Kentucky lost 9 of its final 13 regular-season games to finish 22-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time 1991.

As bad as it was, it would’ve been worse without Patterson.  Despite Meeks’ coming-out season, Patterson was the heart and soul of that team.  He had 14 double-doubles on the season, played 35+ minutes in 18 of Kentucky’s 34 games, scored 25+ seven times, grabbed 12+ rebounds nine times, and did it all while playing out of position.  Because of Kentucky’s lack of size, Patterson was forced to start at center and defend the oppositon’s biggest players.  Another remarkable stat: he only fouled out of one game that season.  Again: without Patterson, that’s not even a .500 team.

From there, things got crazy.  Patterson and Meeks declared for the draft.  Gillispie was fired.  Calipari was hired.  Calipari signed one of the best recruiting classes in history.  Meeks decided to stay in the draft.  Patterson decided to come back.  Both said (almost verbatim) that there would’ve been zero chance of them returning had Gillispie been retained.  Regardless, the tyrannical failure was gone, the top recruiter in the country was in, and in a matter of weeks Kentucky went from an NIT team losing its only two respectable players to the preseason #1.

And there’s a decent chance none of it happens without Patterson.

Hear me out: he was the only thing keeping Kentucky respectable for the two years Gillispie was in Lexington.  Without him, Kentucky’s record dips below .500, the mass exodus that nearly happened at the end of the ’08 season either happens then or happens sooner, and Kentucky suddenly has one of the least-talented rosters in the country. Do you remember the kind of guys Gillispie was recruiting?  Konner Tucker, Dakotah Euton, Michael Avery, Vinny Zollo…can you imagine who he would’ve gone after had half the team bolted the way they planned after the ’08 (or ’07) season?  I’d rather not think about it.

Does Calipari take the job under those circumstances?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, Memphis threw a shit ton of money at him to stay put (and he wasn’t doing too shabby there), and there was another elite-level job opening he was considering (and, at one point, assumed to be taking) in Arizona before the Kentucky job opened up.  Maybe Calipari would’ve liked the challenge of rebuilding a completely deconstructed Roman Empire, or maybe he would’ve preferred to keep his Wall-Cousins-Xavier Henry-Nolan Dennis class intact at Memphis.  Or take it with him to Arizona.

Point being: I’d hate to find out.  Patterson kept Kentucky relevant (and even that might be a strong word) while Gillispie was at the helm.  If he never signs, Kentucky Basketball becomes the hoops equivalent of pre-Nick Saban Alabama Football.

……….

So while history will most likely remember John Calipari, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins as the architects of the new-and-improved Kentucky Basketball Program, those who really followed the ‘Cats should remember Patterson.  He averaged career lows in points and rebounds in his junior season, but he got a chance to show NBA scouts his outside shot and be a part of a team that went 35-3 and play in a Regional Final.  Despite that, Patterson’s legacy should be in his first two seasons in Lexington.  Maybe even more so than Jamal Mashburn, Patterson was the big fish in a small pond that was the catalyst for Kentucky’s long-term success.

One more time, just for good measure: Patrick Patterson, The Most-Important Kentucky Recruit Ever.

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