Kentucky's Patterson heading to the NBA

Friday, April 23, 2010

Patrick Patterson

By Will Graves, AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Patrick Patterson believes his three years at Kentucky have prepared him for life in the NBA.
Both on and off the floor.

Patterson evolved from a somewhat raw 6-foot-9 talent who never ventured too far from the basket into a polished forward who could knock down a 3-pointer and lock down decidedly quicker players on defense.

But it's what he endured away from the court that may have him even better equipped for the chaotic life of a professional.

"I definitely feel like a veteran, feel like it's been five years at Kentucky," Patterson said Friday after announcing he was going to enter the NBA Draft and skip his senior season with the Wildcats.

Maybe that's because Patterson's involvement with Kentucky spanned parts of three distinct eras in the program's history.

He was recruited by Tubby Smith, who then bolted the Bluegrass for Minnesota before getting Patterson to commit. New coach Billy Gillispie eventually persuaded Patterson to help restore the program to it's former glory. Which Patterson did, but under John Calipari, who replaced Gillispie following two turbulent seasons on the job.

Eventually, however, Patterson did what he promised he would do when he arrived: put Kentucky back on the map. He averaged 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds last season as the Wildcats went 35-3 and tore through the Southeastern Conference on their way to both the regular season and conference tournament titles.

"The first two years here at the University of Kentucky were not the true Kentucky years," Patterson said. "To be part of a team that got us back, I definitely think that I was part of the history and progression of getting Kentucky back to where it needs to be and it should be."

Patterson will join freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton in the NBA Draft. Though the university announced two weeks ago Patterson was leaving, he wavered, telling The Associated Press on April 10 that he was "50-50" about coming back.

Part of the wavering came from the pain of coming up just short of reaching the Final Four. The Wildcats were upset by West Virginia in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament, a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Patterson, a West Virginia native.

"It's definitely still eating at me," he said. "It's extremely tough to leave the way we did. We definitely weren't satisfied with being in the Elite Eight."

Calipari encouraged Patterson to return for another season, though with his degree in hand he's on track to graduate in two weeks the prospect of becoming a first-round selection is simply too good to pass up.

He hasn't hired an agent yet but said he expects to be taken sometime in the middle of the first round. That's about where he was slotted to go last spring when he put his name in for the draft only to reconsider after talking to Calipari.

He considers himself a better all-around player now thanks in part to playing in Calipari's dribble drive offense. He developed a jump shot he made a respectable 35 percent of his 3-pointers and proved capable playing defense on the perimeter.

Though his scoring and rebounding averages this year were both career lows, he seamlessly fit in with a revamped roster that propelled Kentucky back to national prominence.

He doesn't expect the Wildcats to go anywhere. He's taken notice of the high profile recruits flocking to Kentucky the Wildcats signed point guard Brandon Knight last week and have verbal commitments from two of the top players in the Class of 2011 and has little doubt the program is back to stay.

"I consider it like he's passing the baton," said Tywanna Patterson, his mother. "Like everybody that is leaving is basically passing the baton to someone else. Therefore, we're back on top, we'll always be great at Kentucky. So he's not leaving it in disarray."

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