Season Preview

Patterson an 'old school' player

It was a bigger revelation than the decision to grow out his Afro throughout this season. Wordier, too.

Kentucky basketball star Patrick Patterson told reporters at the Southeastern Conference Media Days last month that he had a Martin Luther King Jr. quotation tattooed on his chest:

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."

After the needle injected ink into his skin last spring, one problem nagged at Patterson. He hadn't told the family's disciplinarian, his father, about this first tattoo.

"When he finds out, it's going to be trouble," Patterson confided to roommate Jodie Meeks.

Buster Patterson accidentally found out on moving day at the end of the spring semester. He entered the players' room in Wildcat Lodge and caught his surprised son with his shirt off.

Of the scene that unfolded, Patterson said, "It wasn't pretty."

See there. Despite all evidence to the contrary, UK's star is not a paragon of virtue, not born in a manger, didn't kill him a b'ar when he was only 3.

Contrary to what his accomplishments on and off the court suggest, he's not larger than life. He's flesh and blood, which only enhances UK basketball's big man.

As a player, Patterson wows coaches by playing hard, playing smart and playing effectively, all the while balancing high-grade competitiveness and thoughtful humility.

Away from the court, he breathes life into the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. No big-timing anyone by this Big Man on Campus. For instance, Patterson's picture on the cover of Athlon's pre-season magazine caught Meeks by surprise.

"He never told me," Meeks said. "I just happened to see it on the floor."

Of course, superstar fanfare accompanied Patterson to Kentucky. He led Huntington (W.Va.) High to an unprecedented three state championships, became a McDonald's All-American and arrived with Messianic fervor in the air as UK's long-desired power forward.

His teammates wondered if the hoopla supersized Patterson's ego.

"I'd never met a McDonald's All-American," UK forward Perry Stevenson said. "You always have that stereotype. Oh, they think they're this or they think they're that. Patrick proved to me they're not all like that. They're hard workers or else they wouldn't be in that position."

Coaches who don't even play Kentucky appreciate Patterson's fundamentally sound approach. They sense a person of substance. DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright noted how hard Patterson plays and how team-oriented he is.

"He's an old-school guy with new-school athletic ability," Wainwright said.

Which raised a question: How could Wainwright offer a soliloquy on Patterson when DePaul didn't play UK last season?

"There's always somebody at the dance who stands out," he said. "Someone you remember, especially when you're younger. The color of her hair."

Patterson was that someone and, to Wainwright's eye, danced beautifully at those high school all-star recruiting camps.

Or as Wainwright called it, "All those awful games in the summer where everyone is an individual and everybody plays for themselves and for the wrong reason.

"I remember watching Patrick play. When I saw him in college, there was no difference. He has no airs about him."

So how did Patrick Patterson become Patrick Patterson?

He grew up as an only child. His mother, Tywanna, and Buster poured their energies into their son.

Tywanna recalled how she read Bible stories and Dr. Seuss books to her baby when pregnant.

Picking a name made Tywanna remember the confusion about her husband's name. Buster, a 20-year Navy man, was known as "Pat" (short for Patterson) by his service buddies. Tywanna, who worked as a civilian on the same Washington, D.C., area base as Buster, assumed his name was Patrick.

Then when she met his family in Rock Hill, S.C., she heard him called Buster. She learned that her husband-to-be was Buster Jr. His father was Buster Sr.

"He thought about naming Patrick Buster the third," Tywanna said. "I said, uh-huh. No, no, no, no, no."

Tywanna, who has worked in Huntington's Social Security office for 19 years, also wanted Patrick to have a brother or sister. But, as she said of her two subsequent miscarriages, "God had other plans."

The Pattersons tried to make sure Patrick did not feel like an only child. They played host to many sleep-overs. They stocked up on televisions, video games, Ninja turtles, Power Rangers.

"It was nothing from kindergarten through 12th grade to have a bunch of boys in my basement," Tywanna said.

His parents encouraged Patrick to try different activities. He played soccer and football as well as basketball. He joined the Cub Scouts. He and his mother bowled in a parent-child league. He roller-skated. He ice-skated.

The priority on education and Patterson's competitive nature came together when he won his school's fifth-grade spelling bee. All these years later, he still remembers the word he misspelled at the state bee: murmur.

"I said m-u-r-m-e-r," Patterson said.

When someone noted the still-lingering irritation in his voice, he said, "Yeah, a little flashback. I was pretty crushed when I lost because I'd been studying a lot."

With motherly pride, Tywanna said that Patrick never really gave his parents any problems.

But Patrick wasn't a goody-two-shoes. Buster recalled his son joining friends in throwing water balloons at passing cars. That stopped when they hit an undercover police car.

Another time, Patrick and his friends broke a front window with a baseball.

Buster, who is particular about his clothes, looked on in horror when Patrick, then 13, wore his father's new red suede basketball shoes to a tournament in Chillicothe, Ohio.

"My mouth just dropped open," Buster said. "I said, 'Boy, I don't believe you've got my shoes on.'

"He said, 'They matched my uniform.'

"The whole time he had them on, I was so mad."

Buster, the Navy man, ran a tight ship, so to speak. He said it wasn't because of his military background as much as what he experienced with his own father.

"I was raised disciplined," Buster said. "My father believed if you mess up, you pay the price."

As the oldest child, Buster carried the responsibility of watching after four younger sisters and the house.

His father dispensed justice with impeccable logic. "Usually, if we mess up and nobody will fess up, we all get it," Patrick's father said. "So he got the right one."

Buster ran his house with the same checks and balances based on responsibility and consequence.

Patrick had chores: taking out the trash, keeping his room clean, vacuuming.

Patrick also had a 10 p.m. curfew that remained in effect long after he began leading Huntington High to state championships.

"I was probably the only person in my class who had a curfew," Patterson said. "It really hurt my senior year."

And as Buster had to deal with consequences, so did Patrick. Punishments might be no friends to the house or no television or the cell phone taken away.

"Like living in the Stone Age," said Patrick, who added a moment later, "The point of view I had was I was hurt, frustrated. If I snuck out, I'd get caught. But it shaped me into the man I am today, the responsibility."

Buster, who is 6-foot-6, knew about responsibility and basketball. Beginning as a freshman, he drove the school bus. "Like getting paid to go to school," he said.

Buster, who worked on a supply ship in the Navy and now manages a Wal-Mart in the Ashland area, also played basketball in high school. Tywanna met him when she and her friends went to watch games on the Navy base. Like his son, Buster was a low-post power player who yearned to show his perimeter game.

"What I tell Patrick is, 'You need to work on that shot; shoot it like your daddy,' because there wasn't a shot I didn't like," Buster said.

Recalling his quick-draw days, Buster said, "Oh, man, I'm jacking. I'm going to get mine."

Patrick grew up reluctant to get his. He deferred to older players. Always the biggest child on the court, he worried about hurting another player.

It's easy to imagine the steam coming out of Buster's ears. "When I coached him, he said I was too hard on him," Buster said. "I was harder on him. I held him more accountable. He couldn't cut up like the others."

Inevitably, Buster receded. "With fathers and sons, sooner or later they stop hearing you," he said.

So Buster handpicked AAU coaches for Patrick. One of those coaches, Fred Hornbuckle, recalled a game in Beckley, W.Va., in which Patrick played timidly and complained about getting pushed. At halftime, Hornbuckle told him he was playing like a girl (pardon the sexism).

"He got mad," Hornbuckle said, "and he kicked butt."

Patterson arrived at Huntington High as a prospect carrying great expectations. His coach, Lloyd McGuffin, noticed that Patterson worked hard, listened, had athleticism and was smart.

"You put all four together, that spells big-time trouble for the opponent," McGuffin said.

As a freshman, Patterson previewed the glory road ahead during a game at Parkersburg. With about two minutes left in a close game between two notable West Virginia programs, Patterson made a steal and headed for a breakaway. Then 6-6 and skinny, he had never even dunked at practice. So as he rose toward the rim, McGuffin thought to himself, "Oh my gosh, he's not going to miss this, is he?"

Patterson dunked easily.

"The coaches looked at each other like, 'Oh, yeah,' " McGuffin said. "One of those things you don't forget."

Patterson also made a lasting impression by obeying his coach. Early on, McGuffin told him he needed to get stronger to make his basketball dreams come true.

"You know, that's all I had to tell him," McGuffin said. "From then on, any time he could get in the weight room, he was in the weight room. He just continued to get stronger and stronger. Fortunately for us, he also got taller and taller."

The rest is basketball history. The state championships. The rapid rise up the recruiting lists. The arrival at Kentucky. The freshman season good enough to merit first-round NBA Draft status.

It's been done in what Wainwright called the old-school way. Patterson hasn't even had his ears pierced, let alone wear earrings.

He hasn't forgotten his friends in Huntington. One Huntington buddy, Jason Perdue, recalled attending a game last season and waiting so long as Patterson mingled with fans that the Rupp Arena lights dimmed.

He even gives thoughtful replies to media questions.

"He's an old soul," Buster said of his son. "He's a good person with a good heart. He treats people with respect. He cares about things.

"I tell kids, you can find bad anywhere. Do the right thing. Doing the wrong thing is easy. Do something challenging. Do the right thing."

His voice softening, Buster added, "Patrick's a good kid. I'm very proud of him."

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