UK draft picks reflect on their time as Wildcats

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 26, 2010 

NEW YORK — While this year's NBA Draft sent players toward their basketball futures, the night also included a bit of reflection.

Patrick Patterson, the elder statesmen among the record five University of Kentucky players selected in the first round, noted the indelible mark made by his three college years.

"Big Blue Nation will always be with me and in my heart and, wherever I go, I will keep it with me," Patterson said after being drafted by Houston with the 14th pick. "... I definitely will represent the nation with great pride."

His varied college experience, from low-post anchor as freshman and sophomore to complementary perimeter player as a junior showcased a selfless versatility.

"It put me at an advantage," Patterson said, "... because I can adapt well, and also I can do new things."

Patterson also saw an advantage in having played alongside four first-rounders this past season at UK.

That experience helped him learn "to work hard to play and prove myself," he said. "And, also, if I can't play, I'll be fine with it. ...

"It shows I can do well around high-caliber teammates and that I can adjust and that I can adapt."

John Wall, who became the first UK player taken with the overall No. 1 pick in an NBA Draft, said playing for Kentucky and Coach John Calipari helped prepare him for pro basketball.

"Coach taught me a lot, and I became a better leader vocally," Wall said. "I was always a leader by example, being the first in the gym and the last (to leave) the gym and working hard."

Wall likened being a rookie starting point guard for the Washington Wizards with becoming Kentucky's floor leader as a freshman.

"We went in with a new group of guys," he said of coming to UK this time last year. "I know this is a different level, but I just have to go in and show those guys I'm willing to work and listen as much as I can and be a leader."

Kentucky was not the only program to lose an underclassman to the NBA Draft. Nor were Wall, Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe the only players who could look back fondly on the college teams they left behind.

Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the national championship game earlier this year, called his entry into the 2010 NBA Draft "the toughest decision I've ever had to make.

"And a lot of that was just because of the people at Butler (and) the fact that we had everyone coming back. You take that into account."

Hayward, taken ninth by Utah, had the additional tug of playing for a university in his hometown of Indianapolis.

"I was 15, 20 minutes from my home, and some of my family and friends were there," he said. "That was really the tough part. From a basketball standpoint, I was ready to go."

Wesley Johnson, taken fourth by Minnesota, acknowledged having thought about returning to Syracuse next season.

"Without a doubt, it was a tough decision for me to make," he said. "I love Syracuse. But it was my dream to go to the NBA."

Evan Turner, taken second by Philadelphia, spoke of how playing for Ohio State helped prepare him for professional basketball.

"Coach (Thad) Matta wants you to make plays and play hard," he said, "and that's what the NBA is about: use a lot of pick-and-roll and playmaking ability."

Like Calipari at Kentucky, Matta's track record of bringing highly regarded recruits to Ohio State drew Turner to the Buckeyes.

"A lot of competition and a lot of NBA players there," Turner said. "And that's what I was thinking (would) get me prepared for the future."

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