What Pattersons didn't say said a lot

Patterson's mom: 'I could just look at Patrick's face last year and see he wasn't happy'

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 12, 2009 

On a day devoted to the suddenly shiny prospects for Kentucky basketball, the most interesting insight to be gleaned was about UK's turbulent immediate past.

After a formal news conference Monday in which Wildcats standout Patrick Patterson explained his rationale for pulling his name out of the NBA Draft to stay in Lexington for his junior year, Tywanna Patterson, his mother, discussed what the UK star's sophomore year had been like for his family.

As I listened, it reinforced for me that the issues that drove Billy Gillispie from the job as Kentucky basketball coach after only two years were far more than bad sideline interviews, spurned Rotary Club speeches and too much losing to the likes of Gardner-Webb and VMI.

Those late season rumblings that Billy G. had "lost" his best players? It seems clear they were far more than the typical UK basketball rumor-mongering.

"As a parent, you know when your kid isn't happy," Tywanna Patterson said Monday. "I could just look at Patrick's face last year and see he wasn't happy."

For a parent to see a child who has always relished every moment on the basketball court suddenly seem unhappy doing what he loves best, "was hard. It was a little hard," Tywanna Patterson said.

"As parents, there are some things you can say and some things you don't want to overstep your bounds. As the season went along, we just prayed that the path things were on would change."

After the Wildcats missed the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the path UK basketball was on underwent a rather dramatic alteration.

Said Tywanna Patterson: "Coaches get paid a lot of money to win games, obviously, and if you are not winning, eventually, something is going to change. And something changed, and we are so happy."

The vibe that hung over Patterson's news conference stating that he would be a part of the first year of the John Calipari era was that he likely wouldn't have been back in Blue had Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart not pulled the plug on Billy G.

"I can't really answer that question," Patrick Patterson said. "I don't know. There was a coaching change, and I am coming back. But I can't answer the question (about coming back under Gillispie) because I didn't face that question."

Asked if her son would still be at UK without the coaching change, Tywanna Patterson said "Hmmmmm. You never know. You never know. You never know.

"I don't want to say anything bad about Coach Gillispie or his staff ... But it is what it is. Sometimes, a person is not a good fit in a job. What I do know is this is a new day and we're very excited about it."

Tywanna Patterson is the second parent of a Kentucky star player to publicly hint that their son was not a happy camper last season.

On the day Gillispie was ousted, Orestes Meeks, the father of Jodie, said "clearly, a lot of things happened behind the scenes that made it difficult for the kids to play basketball and focus on winning. ... It clearly didn't look like it was working."

Given that most would say that Meeks and Patterson are two of the classiest kids — especially for star-caliber players — ever to play at Kentucky, those sentiments ought to give Gillispie pause.

Billy G. is a good college basketball coach. He proved that with the turnaround magic he worked at both UTEP and Texas A&M.

He deserves another chance to coach in a BCS conference, though as an introvert who often seemed uncomfortable in the glaring spotlight of UK basketball, Gillispie likely would be better off at a school whose football coach is the public face of the athletics program.

In his two turbulent years here in Lexington, it was frequently debated whether Billy G. had the capacity to change.

When one's coaching methods apparently alienated kids like Patterson and Meeks, a self-aware person should recognize the need to examine how one does things.

Is Billy G. willing — or able — to do that?

If I were an athletics director contemplating hiring Gillispie, that's the question I'd want answered first.

Which is no longer Kentucky's problem.

But on a day when Patrick Patterson explained his choice to become a part of UK's new day, it was the words of his mother that gave us a peek at why the new day came in the first place.

Reach Mark Story at 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or at mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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