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Sunday, March 7, 2010
Destination worth journey for Patterson

By Brian Bennett

Patrick Patterson
Patrick Patterson (54) has adjusted his game in his first season under coach John Calipari.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With nine seconds left and a victory against Florida assured, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson stepped to the free throw line. The Rupp Arena crowd began chanting "One more year!"

Chalk that up to just plain greed.

In many ways, it's surprising that Patterson stayed on campus long enough to see the end of his junior season and to be honored during the Wildcats' Senior Day ceremonies on Sunday. Surprising and rewarding, for both parties.

"I'm so glad we've gotten to this point," said his mother, Tywanna. "What he's gone through the past three years has helped make him into the person he is today."

The 6-foot-9 Patterson was one of the most coveted recruits in the insanely talented class of 2007. He played in the McDonald's all-star game alongside Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless, all of whom are already earning paychecks in the NBA.

Patterson's career, though, has seen its share of setbacks and speed bumps. Originally recruited by Tubby Smith, he signed with Billy Gillispie. An outstanding freshman season ended prematurely because of an ankle injury. Last season, his team went to the NIT as Gillispie got fired.

Then new coach John Calipari came in with his dribble-drive offense and a new role for the program's biggest star. After playing the low post for two years under Gillispie and relentlessly fighting for space in the paint, Patterson was suddenly asked to improve his perimeter game and spend more time on the wing facing the basket.

No longer would he be the team's primary inside scoring threat; that distinction belongs to freshman DeMarcus Cousins. No longer would he be the headliner; superstar freshman point guard John Wall now grabs most of the attention.

"He just says, 'Whatever you need,'" Calipari said. "Think about that. He could have said, 'This is my team and I get all the shots.' But he never did. He just wants to win, and that's why we're 29-2."

Patterson has always had the reputation of a workout warrior, but he admits getting ready for this season took its toll. Especially when Calipari put him with the guards during practice drills instead of the big men, forcing him to work on the unfamiliar skills of ballhandling and shooting.

"Day in and day out in practice, it was tough," he said. "I always caught myself trying to post up more than being on the perimeter. The transition was rough, but it was fun."

Patterson's scoring and rebounding numbers this season are the lowest of his career, but he doesn't have to carry as heavy of a load anymore. And after attempting just four 3-pointers his first two seasons -- missing them all -- he has made 41.5 percent of his 53 attempts from behind the arc this season. Perhaps fittingly, the first basket of Sunday's game was a Patterson 3-pointer.

He may no longer be the No. 1 option, but the Wildcats still look to him in times of need. As Florida roared back in the second half, Kentucky made a concerted effort to feed Patterson the ball and use him on the pick and roll with Wall. That play resulted in a Patterson dunk after the Gators sliced the lead to 62-60 with a little under six minutes to go, and he and Wall accounted for 13 straight points during the game's deciding stretch. He finished with a solid overall game: 13 points, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks.

"It's pretty impressive the fact that he can still be an effective player playing a totally different role," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who nearly signed Patterson three years ago. "I think that goes into what kind of player he is, that he can be a dominant force just playing block to block for two years, and that he can still be a dominant force when a lot of times he's on the perimeter and shooting."

Makes you wonder what Patterson could have done had he been surrounded by better talent his first two years. But his teammates, coaches and relatives describe him as someone who never complains and who has very little ego.

"Some people have said, 'What if Cal was here his first two years?'" Tywanna says. "But Patrick might not even be here because his game might have been elevated to another level. Things have a way of working out. He was able to come back and help bring this team back to prominence."

And next Sunday -- which happens to be Patterson's 21st birthday -- could be a time of great celebration. Patterson hopes to capture an SEC tournament title that day while later learning that his team is a No. 1 seed for his first NCAA tournament.

One more year? No need for greed. This one suits Patrick Patterson just fine.

"I've had a lot more fun and less pressure this year," he said. "This year is definitely making up for the last two."