Patterson, Meeks deserve better than this

Back in the day, John Pelphrey used to say that one fear motivated the class of basketball players that stuck with the University of Kentucky through NCAA probation and went on to become Unforgettable.

"We didn't want to be known as the guys who were at Kentucky when Kentucky wasn't any good," Pelphrey would say.

I fear that unhappy fate is instead being visited upon current UK stars Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson.

Which just goes to prove that college basketball, like life, can be substantially unfair.

There have been few basketball players in modern Kentucky history who deserve a positive legacy more than Patterson and Meeks.

It's not just that they are star-caliber players. In a modern basketball culture that often produces Starbury clones, Meeks and Patterson seem to be something almost as rare as the set shot.

Genuinely nice kids.

They deserve better than having the defining moment of their respective UK careers be the present program meltdown.

Not that Kentucky fans blame the high-scoring duo for UK's struggles.

If the angry missives increasingly filling my e-mail inbox are any indication, Billy Gillispie and Mitch Barnhart are Nos. 1 and 1A in the blame game among Cats fans.

Still, at Kentucky, player legacies are intricately linked to team success. Meeks and Patterson have yet to achieve much of that here in Lexington.

When Patterson turned down Florida and Duke to cast his lot with UK two years ago, my hope was that he would get to play on at least one vintage Kentucky team.

Now, barring a miracle UK run in the SEC Tournament, he will have gone two seasons without even playing in the NCAA Tournament (having missed last year's first-round loss to Marquette because of injury).

Meeks was a key contributor as a true freshman on Tubby Smith's final team, a mediocre-by-UK-standards outfit (22-12) that got ripped by Kansas in the 2007 NCAA second round.

Last year, injuries sabotaged Meeks' sophomore season and made him, too, a spectator for the Big Dance.

Soon, both he and Patterson will have decisions to make on their futures.

Do they put their names in the 2009 NBA Draft or come back to Lexington for one more shot at actually playing for a quality Kentucky team?

For neither is the decision crystal clear.

If you put any stock in the NBA mock drafts on the Internet (and, really, who knows if they know anything), Patterson is mostly projected to be a mid-to-late first-rounder if he goes this year.

That would mean a guaranteed contract and make PP an immediate millionaire, but it's not the life-changing money available at the top of the draft lottery.

Last summer, Patterson was coming off ankle surgery and couldn't devote as much time in the summer to improving his basketball skill set as he would normally have done.

Could he play himself into the lottery with an off-season to work on his outside shot? Would he show more explosion around the basket next year with a full summer to physically train?

Would the arrival of incoming big man Daniel Orton allow Patterson the chance to show he can play away from the basket, something a player of his height (listed at 6-foot-9) will have to do in the NBA?

As for Meeks, he does not fare nearly as well as Patterson in the current mock drafts. I looked at five Monday. Only one even mentioned Meeks and it had him going (No. 47 overall) in the second round.

No guaranteed money there.

It seems clear that another year in college to work on his ball-handling skills as well as develop more efficiency at scoring when driving to the basket would greatly benefit the guard.

Of course, what we don't know is how either player really feels about the increasingly confused direction of the Kentucky program.

If Billy Gillispie survives as top Cat, do Meeks and Patterson want another year of grueling practices and sarcastic motivational techniques?

If Billy G. departs, do they want the uncertainty of a third Kentucky coach in the past four seasons?

What we can say right now is this: Two of the classiest stars to wear UK blue deserved better than being the guys at Kentucky when Kentucky wasn't very good.