Sports

Mark Story: Selfless Patterson makes rare request

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — If having a Final Four berth at stake against West Virginia on Saturday wasn't enough motivation, Patrick Patterson has a request for his Kentucky teammates.

Win one for the PatPat.

"If we don't win this game," said the Huntington, W.Va., product Friday with a smile, "you have no idea how much stuff I'm going to hear about it."

Given the unique role Patterson has played in Kentucky's march to the NCAA Tournament East Regional finals, it seems the least his fellow Cats could do is give a little extra against No. 54's home-state university.

In an age when me-first basketball is often the norm, Patterson and his willingness to take a reduced role as a junior to make room for the talents of freshman stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins may be the single biggest factor in Kentucky's turnaround season.

The young stars for whom Patterson cleared room know that, too.

"It's not about his numbers or who is the star of the team for him," Cousins said of Patterson. "It's all about winning."

Said Wall: "Patrick accepted a role. I had so much hype coming in and all my fellow freshmen had so much hype coming in and he didn't say, 'This is my team. Get me the ball.'"

Patterson could have said that.

Instead, the guy who was pretty much the total focus of Kentucky's inside attack both as a freshman and sophomore has seen his scoring average decline from 17.9 a season ago to 14.5 this year.

Patterson has watched Cousins emerge as UK's primary interior scoring option while accepting more of a perimeter role himself.

Showing the NBA that he can make jump shots has been in Patterson's self interest. Still, had the 6-foot-9 junior not been willing to cede some of the spotlight, it's very possible the current Kentucky team could have imploded in its own version of star wars.

Instead, the Cats stand one victory away from their first Final Four trip since 1998.

Said Wall: "Patrick would rather have us here and have the success we've had than score a whole lot of points. That's the kind of person he is."

In a sense, Patterson's high school days at West Virginia's Huntington High served as preparation for this year at Kentucky. Patterson was the centerpiece of a state championship-winning team when, before his senior year, basketball wunderkind O.J. Mayo transferred to Huntington.

"Having O.J. come in and for him to come in and play dominant basketball, I didn't have to do as much as I had been doing my first three years in high school," Patterson said. "So that was sort of preparation for what I had to do this year."

A sports star willing to sacrifice for the greater good tends to garner attention.

"Patrick has a lot of character," said Kentucky senior Perry Stevenson. "He's a good guy in pretty much every aspect of his life. This year has just been him being a team player."

Said UK swingman Darius Miller of Patterson: "We all have a lot of respect for him."

Which brings us back to Saturday.

Patterson said sports allegiances in Huntington were divided between WVU and hometown Marshall University.

Though he did not grow up a Mountaineers fan, Patterson said he was impressed with the recruiting efforts of former West Virginia Coach John Beilein.

"I went up there, toured the campus, met John Beilein and a couple of the players," Patterson said. "I liked it. It was home. All my friends were going there."

After Beilein left for Michigan, new WVU Coach Bob Huggins tried to pursue Patterson.

"When I got the job, I think he was already down to Kentucky and Florida," Huggins said Friday. "I called, but he was too far down the road (to a decision)."

If Huggins and his rugged Mountaineers deny Patterson the Final Four, the UK forward said all those high school friends of his that went to WVU will never let him hear the end of it.

"If we don't win the game, my texts will get real interesting," Patterson said.

Given that, the least the other Cats can do for the star who sacrificed is bring their "A" game against his home-state university.

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