Patterson embraces role as UK's leading man

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2009 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In addition to being a leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for Kentucky this season, Patrick Patterson knows he must also simply lead.

"I know a lot is on my shoulders," he said Thursday at the Southeastern Conference Media Day. "I have to help my teammates as much as possible. Push them to the next level. Be a vocal leader and an emotional leader."

Aside from an occasional full-throated roar after a dunk, Patterson is not the most demonstrative player. He acknowledged that his quiet, yes-sir, no-sir demeanor might not inspire a charge up San Juan Hill.

"I'm still working on it a lot," he said. "It will come to me. I can do it. 'Keep your head up.' 'Do this.' 'Stop playing soft.' "

Strangely enough, for all his basketball accomplishments, Patterson has not led a team.

He deferred to older players as an underclassman in high school. When his Huntington High School team won a third straight West Virginia Class AAA state championship his senior year, O.J. Mayo was first among equals. Mayo's long-standing reputation as a national basketball celebrity made him someone to listen to rather than lead, Patterson said.

At UK, seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford set the tone in Patterson's freshman year. Jodie Meeks had that role last season.

Now, Patterson's time has arrived. "I need to step up more," he said.

To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton, Patterson can lead through the power of his example rather than an example of his power.

UK Coach John Calipari noted how Patterson serves as a good example to follow.

"If you come to practice, you'll see he's our hardest worker," Calipari said.

Calipari noted how the losing team in a drill must run sprints. "If his team loses, he always finishes first in the running. He takes responsibility.

"He's a kid that doesn't say much. But the way he practices speaks volumes."

Whoever leads Kentucky will be leading two teams; Holdover veterans adjusting to a new system, for the seniors a third system in four years; and a group of highly regarded freshmen.

It's that latter group that makes people wonder: Will they be willing to be led or do they think their talent gives them center stage?

A diplomatic Patterson split the difference. "A little bit of both," he said when asked who was leading whom. "They look up to me. Also on the court, (freshman) John (Wall) tells people what to do. Same with DeMarcus (Cousins) and Eric (Bledsoe)."

Patterson voiced no problem with freshmen taking the lead.

"They know what it takes to be great," he said.

Many observers, Calipari among them, saw Patterson's decision-making on this year's NBA Draft as worth emulating. Patterson seemed assured of a draft position among the top 20 or so picks.

But he chose to return for this, his junior season. Calipari liked the reasons why: get a degree in three seasons, try to play in an NCAA Tournament for the first time and improve his draft position by becoming a better perimeter player.

In particular, Calipari said Patterson must improve his ball handling with his left hand and become a confident perimeter shooter.

Patterson said he's working to take his man off the dribble more and not be afraid to shoot perimeter shots.

When asked about the air ball and other badly missed three-point shots during Big Blue Madness, Patterson said he'd dismissed those bricks.

"Put them out of your mind," he advised reporters.

Patterson saw himself as a power forward, perhaps a small forward in the NBA. He said it couldn't hurt his NBA chances by improving as a perimeter player. "By showing them another side of my game I've been improving on," he said. "That can only help me."

Earlier this fall, Calipari declared this Patterson's last UK season. Later, the coach backed off a bit and said that Patterson could play well enough to make this his last college season.

"That means he believes in me being the high draft pick I want to be," Patterson said. "I want to be in the lottery. I want to be top 10. I know it's all about the work I put in and how the team does."

Meanwhile, Patterson looks forward to playing in his first NCAA Tournament. An injury cost him the chance as a freshman. Then UK did not receive a bid last spring.

"That's a huge motivation for me," he said. "It was a huge factor for me coming back. That's something that pushes me every day."

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