Sitting the bench from tip-off to final buzzer served as a highlight in the first few weeks of Patrick Patterson's NBA career. Some games he didn't even put on his Houston Rockets uniform.
A question about the last time he cast such a small basketball shadow gave Patterson pause.
"The last time I didn't play and sat the bench?" he said, repeating the question. "Uh, you've got to go all the way back to (pause). I don't think that ever happened before."
As a pillar of Kentucky basketball, Patterson rarely sat. He led the nation in minutes as a freshman (38.9 per game), was second as a sophomore (33.7) and ninth as a junior (33.0).
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"It was extremely tough to deal with," Patterson said of not getting off the bench.
Also difficult to swallow, at least initially, was the Rockets' decision last week to send Patterson to the team's Developmental League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
"Extremely tough when you first hear about it," Patterson said. "You dream of playing in the NBA. That's where you want to stay at."
Upon reflection, Patterson accepted the move from Houston to McAllen, Texas, which is 348 miles away on the Mexican border. "I see it as an opportunity to play basketball and see familiar faces and develop my game," he said after the Vipers' practice Friday.
One of his new teammates is former UK player Ramon Harris.
Houston officials saw the Vipers as a chance for Patterson to play. Big men Yao Ming, Luis Scola, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill and another ex-UK player, Chuck Hayes, left no playing time for Patterson. With fewer practices as the NBA schedule unfolds, Patterson could grow stale.
"I'm excited," Patterson said, "because I get to step on the court."
UK fans will have a chance to watch Patterson play this week. The Vipers open their season on Thursday against the Texas Legends, a team coached by Nancy Lieberman. The game will be televised by Versus (cable channel 549 in Lexington) with tip-off at 8 p.m. EST.
As always the dutiful soldier, Patterson said he did whatever he was asked to do by the Houston coaches. Hayes and other veteran players reminded Patterson that all rookies face a difficult transition.
"Keep working hard," he said of their advice. "Keep running. Keep pushing. Keep trying to get better. Keep trying to improve.
"Maybe one day you'll be back up here."
Meanwhile, Patterson continues to follow Kentucky.
"First game is tonight," he said when asked about the Cats. "I still have to follow Kentucky. I found out Enes (Kanter) is ineligible and Kentucky's trying to deal (with it). I'm still keeping hands on."
Turpin's son signed
Among former UK assistant Leonard Hamilton's signees for Florida State last week was the son of ex-Cat Melvin Turpin.
Kiel Turpin, a 6-foot-11 player for Lincoln Community College in Illinois, is someone Hamilton hopes he can develop.
"Kind of a late bloomer," Hamilton said in a telephone interview.
A tremendous growth spurt interrupted — or more correctly, rebooted — the younger Turpin's development as a basketball player. He started his junior year of high school standing 6-3. A year later he was 6-11.
Before detailing the growth spurt, Hamilton said, "I know this is going to sound far-fetched.
"With that type of growth spurt, sometimes it's difficult to maintain your coordination."
Melvin Turpin could have been the best face-the-basket shooter among centers in UK basketball history, certainly the best in the last 30 years. He led the Cats in scoring as a junior (15.1 ppg) and a senior (15.2 ppg), the latter team advancing to the 1984 Final Four.
When asked to compare the son with the father, Hamilton said, "It's kind of unfair to compare right now because Melvin, he was always very tall. He had adjusted to his height a lot sooner. Kiel's a good athlete. He runs. He's got a good shooting touch like his father. We have to let the kid develop at his own pace.
"I think he's got potential. And my hunch is, his growth and development will start accelerating now that opportunity has caught up with the growth spurt."
Melvin Turpin's apparent suicide this past summer casts a pall over the story.
Hamilton, a UK assistant when Turpin played for the Cats, happened to see him last May. Hamilton was in Lexington to visit a brother who was hospitalized when he ran into Turpin.
"I was so happy to see him," Hamilton said. "That was the last time I saw him."
Taking the fifth
During the Southeastern Conference Media Day, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings joked (?) about a reporters' vote that predicted a fifth-place finish for his team.
Two weeks ago, it was noted that SI.com also predicted a fifth-place finish for the Commodores.
Now Basketball Times has picked Vanderbilt to finish fifth behind Florida, UK, Tennessee and Georgia.
"I look at these a few different ways," editor John Akers wrote in an e-mail message. "In one, I do sort of an equation using a team's conference wins and the number of starters returning (also weighing the quality of those starters). For example, the return or loss of an all-conference starter weighs more than other starters. Transfers and talented newcomers are also factored in.
"I also do a team efficiency rating, which combines the efficiency ratings of the five starters."
After crunching the numbers, Akers concluded that a fifth-place finish in the SEC Eastern Division will be no crime.
"The bottom line in this case is that the SEC East could be pretty stinking good this year," Akers wrote. "I mean, I don't think Vandy is that far behind Tennessee and Georgia, and I don't think Tennessee and Georgia are all that far behind Florida and Kentucky. I think all five should be pretty good."
College basketball has its share of feel-good stories. For instance, the candidates for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award this season include:
■ Richmond's Kevin Anderson, who shares text messages with a 14-year-old brain-tumor survivor. The Richmond team adopted the 14-year-old through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.
■ IUPUI's John Ashworth, who has traveled to Costa Rica and Peru to distribute shoes to needy children.
■ Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel, who mentors students whose parents are in prison or suffer from drug problems.
■ Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, an active participant in the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation.
■ Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell, a regular volunteer at a local food bank in Hillside, N.J.
Son also rises
Ben Fogler, the son of former Vanderbilt and South Carolina Coach Eddie Fogler, signed a golf scholarship with the Commodores last week.
The younger Fogler had seven top-20 American Junior Golf Association finishes in his career, including a second place at the 2010 North & South Junior Championship. He also won medalist honors at the 2010 Georgia-South Carolina Cup Invitational.
Fogler is a National Merit Scholarship Qualifier and a member of the National Honor Society, and carries a 4.8 GPA.
"Ben Fogler was made for Vanderbilt," Vandy golf coach Tom Shaw said in a news release. "He is a decorated scholar and one of the best junior golfers in the South. Ben will thrive in the Vanderbilt environment and will play a huge role in pushing our team toward the top of the SEC. His golf skills, work ethic, and quality character make him a natural fit with our team."
Crime and punishment
In his weekly sports commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford weighed in on the Cam Newton story.
"A desperately favorite NCAA punishment is to require the offending college to forfeit the games it won sometime in its dark past," Deford said. "Oh, that smarts. That really scares cheaters. Changing old record books is like telling you that the vacation you had in Jamaica four years ago, when you were drinking rum, playing golf and swimming with a beautiful woman in the moonlight really wasn't any fun."
Maybe so, but UK Coach John Calipari might not agree that vacating records is painless when critics question his methods by noting how the NCAA erased Final Four appearances by his Massachusetts and Memphis teams.
Deford also noted a comment made by the Auburn quarterback's father, Cecil Newton.
"The most illuminating tidbit in the whole saga is that Newton's father, a preacher, says he didn't want his son to go to Mississippi State because there he would be 'a rented mule' " Deford said before adding, "Well, that's the best definition of college athletes I've heard."
Deford concluded the commentary by deriding the notion of amateurism.
"In all the world of big-time sport, only in American college football and basketball does the myth of amateurism still exist," he said. "The Cam Newton case may itself add up to nothing, but it perfectly illustrates, once again, that the American way of college sports is outdated, corrupt and impossible to maintain, with rented mules."
Turnovers by Wall
Going into this weekend's games, former UK star John Wall led the NBA in turnovers with an average of 5.0 per game.
That fit the pattern of his one season for UK. In 2009-10, Wall committed 149 turnovers. That marked the most by a UK player in at least 30 years — and by a large margin.
Since the 1980-81 season, only four other UK players have committed 100 or more turnovers in a season: 100 by Ramel Bradley in 2007-08, 103 by Jamal Mashburn in 1992-93, 109 by Dirk Minniefield in 1982-83 and 110 by Chris Mills in 1988-89.
Of course, you have to be a pretty good player to keep getting the ball if you turn it over 100 or more times.
The NBA stats support that contention. The 10 players who had committed the most turnovers included Steve Nash (second at 4.9 per game), Derrick Rose (tied for fourth at 4.3), LeBron James (tied for fourth at 4.3), Deron Williams (tied for seventh at 4.0) and ex-Cat Rajon Rondo (tied for ninth at 3.9).
Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com rated Kentucky's non-conference schedule as the fifth toughest in the nation. That's based primarily on UK's participation in the Maui Invitational, where the opposition could be Oklahoma, Pacific-10 favorite Washington and No. 2 Michigan State.
Brennan credited Gonzaga with the toughest schedule. The Zags play Kansas State, Duke or Marquette, Illinois, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Xavier, Wake Forest and Memphis. Like John Calipari's Memphis teams, Gonzaga needs a tough non-conference schedule to balance a less-demanding conference schedule.
Other top schedules belonged to Georgtown, South Carolina (which plays at Michigan State, at Western Kentucky and at Ohio State) and Texas.
Brennan gave honorable mention to Tennessee, Michigan State, Butler, Illinois, Wake Forest, Kansas State, Florida and N.C. State.
He considered the weakest non-conference schedules to be those of Northwestern, Indiana (which plays Boston College and UK), Oregon State, Cincinnati and Rutgers.
To former UK player Alex Legion. He turns 22 on Tuesday.
Legion is sitting out the fall semester after transferring from Illinois to Florida International. In his college career to date, he has scored 147 points. He has averaged 3.8 points while making 31.8 percent of his shots.