The news was highly anticipated and as welcome as mom's cooking after a two month road trip: 6-9 Kentucky sophomore forward Patrick Patterson has withdrawn his name from the NBA Draft.
Patterson's own words seem to belie the angst that UK fans have been feeling since the All-SEC performers announcement (on April 15) that he was throwing his rather large sneakers into the NBA Draft pool. Even though his declaration was absent the signing of an agent, the mere mention of "NBA" and "Patterson" in the same sentence sent 'Cat fans scurrying for the Rolaids.
Patterson, though, is looking forward to the coveted opportunity of doing something special at Kentucky:
"I have the chance to graduate in three years, which is important to me and my family. I want to help Kentucky compete for a national title, and even more than that, win its eighth national championship. I'm also really excited about playing for coach Cal and developing my game in the dribble-drive offense."
UK coach John Calipari told the Lexington Herald-Leader that after a late season work-out, Patterson seemed ready to stay in Lexington:
"He said, 'Wait a minute, I want to do this.' He said he would be wasting everybody's time by staying in the draft; mine, yours, and the NBA and 'I just don't want to do it.'"
Calipari also echoed a few superlatives that former UK coach Billy Gillispie showered on Patterson for his entire two-year tenure on UK's bench:
"In the month that I've been at Kentucky, I've been blown away by Patrick Patterson. He is one of the nicest individuals I've met and one of the fiercest competitors that I've been around. I'm thrilled to get the coach him next year."
Calipari is thrilled? Here's why ...
The Big Bang [ers]
For two years Billy Gillispie famously bemoaned the fact that Patterson had no help on the interior. But, with the addition of freshman phenoms and "bangers" extraordinaire DeMarcus Cousins (6-9) and Daniel Orton (6-10), along with reputed difference-maker in-waiting Matthew Pilgrim (6-8), UK now has a paint presence worthy enough to demand opponents guard the other big boys in blue. This should free-up Patterson, at least to the point that he isn't facing double and triple-teams on a nightly basis: Patterson one-on-one in the paint -- Now that's a perfectly pleasant scenario.
The entire premise of the dribble-drive motion offense is to isolate. Isolate the defense, put them on an island ... alone. Patterson, in his two years at Kentucky has shown a propensity, when guarded by a single defender, to have the handles to take his man off the dribble, and either pull up for a short jumper, or take the ball to the rim.
Calipari's offense will highlight, even encourage Patterson to make a habit of "posterizing" his defensive nemesis in this way. Additionally, the DDMO demands that the point guard penetrate and shoot, OR penetrate and dish to the wing to the open shooter, OR penetrate and dish to the post. The latter, under ideal circumstances, will have Patterson receiving the ball near the basket, guarded by one defender. This should lead to a high percentage shot for Patrick, or a free throw, of which he made nearly 77.0% last year.
NOTE: I won't yet speculate on who will be the primary point guard next year, but suffice it to say that Patterson will be receiving a much more catchable ball, in a location more conducive to him scoring.
There is simply no way anyone can determine, or guarantee, Patterson will be injury-free next season. After-all, in his first two years at Kentucky he's suffered through a broken foot, which ended his freshman year, and a severely sprained ankle, which cost him two games last year. But, some would argue the most devastating injury he endured was the jammed finger (I assume, no one ever said what the exact injury was) he suffered in UK's SEC opener versus Vanderbilt on January 10. The injury was so severe that he was required to wear a rather large bandage around the digit (middle finger of his shooting hand), which obviously effected his shooting touch.
Take this into consideration: In the first 15 games of UK's '08-'09 season, Patterson averaged 19.5 points per game, while shooting an outstanding 77.4% from the field (127-164), and 79.5% from the free throw line (58-73). In the 19 games which followed, Patterson averaged 16.2 points per game, shot 52.6% from the floor (123-234), and 71.7% from the charity stripe (71-99). Even worse, in the nine games immediately following his injury he averaged only 15.1 points per game. But, when he came back from missing two games in mid-February due to his ankle injury (versus Arkansas and Vanderbilt), the bothersome bandage had disappeared, replaced by a much more palatable amount of tape. But, even then Patterson shot only 52.6% from the field (71-135), and 69.6% from the free throw line (39-56) over the final 10 games of the year.
Further demonstrating the adverse effect the damaged digit had on his game: In the nine contests immediately following his injury, he averaged only 7.7 rebounds per game. But, he ended the year strong, averaging 10.2 rebounds over the final nine games of the year (after having the bandage removed).
So, knowing all the adversity Patterson has encountered in his two years, and also knowing that despite that adversity he's been able to perform at an All-America level, certainly bodes well for the possibilities of what a healthy Patterson can achieve.
A Winning Combination
To encapsulate: In my estimation, considering Patterson now has the above-mentioned -- 1. Help, 2. An offense he should thrive in, and 3. Hopefully a healthy year, UK is now poised to recapture what has been eluding the Kings of College Basketball for far too many years: Being a major player in determining the National Champion. Whether that means a Final Four appearance or not, I don't know, but at least Big Blue is back in the conversation.
Sure, the absence of being relevant has been painful, fraught with coaching changes, players leaving long before they had any business leaving, and a generally tension-filled atmosphere hovering ominously over the Bluegrass. But, Patterson's return signals the beginning of UK's roundball renewal.
There is no debating UK would be a very talented squad without Patterson's presence next year, but now Calipari won't have to rely on freshmen to man the middle alone (my apologies to Perry Stevenson). Plus, the leadership Patterson offers is impossible to replace: His work ethic, attitude, and competitive desire will be readily available for the incoming freshman to see, and hopefully emulate. That, my friends, is priceless to the program, and here's why ...
Freshmen DeMarcus Cousins, Jon Hood, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and JUCO Darnell Dodson -- All highly sought-after, highly touted recruits, who many times are guilty of entering their college days with their heads full of atta boys, and a general feeling of superiority, which of course can lead to complacent performance. But, when they see a player of Patterson's stature busting his hump at every practice, and during every scrimmage, demanding the same effort and intensity from everyone, they will be more apt to follow an accomplished leader, or risk being left behind.
Undoubtedly, Patterson is now in a position to be a trend-setter, with a team full of capable talent being the target of the trend. It goes like this -- Sacrifice for the team, sacrifice for the victory, sacrifice for the championship ...
Because talent alone won't win the most important games. It takes athletic integrity, and a cohesive unit, unconcerned with personal agendas, to attain the ultimate prize. But, before those two requisites can be achieved, a leader must lead.
Patrick, this is your time!
And finally for the fans: Patrick Patterson wearing the Blue and White clears the storm clouds away, and pushes the sun back up over the Bluegrass, where it shines the brightest.
We appreciate you Patrick!
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!