John Clay

Enjoy Patterson while he's still here

Remember every moment.

Rave over his rebounds.

Swoon with his swishes.

Grow your own fro.

Appreciate every drop of sweat that accompanies every ounce of will that he pours into every single minute (an average of 35.7 per game last year) of every single game.

This might be our last chance to enjoy Patrick Patterson.

I'm not saying that.

Billy Gillispie is saying that.

"I hope he has a real easy decision to make after the season is over," the Kentucky basketball coach said Wednesday at Media Day.

You know the decision. The NBA decision. The play-for-pay decision. It's the decision that lottery picks have to make. It's the decision the best player in college basketball annually has to make.

"I've talked to Patrick many times, and his family, (and I've said) 'Let's shoot to be the best player in college basketball,' " Gillispie said. "He's not considered that going into the season, but he wasn't considered a scorer coming into last season, and he did that pretty well."

Yes, he did. He averaged 16.4 points per game. He snatched 7.7 rebounds. He shot 57.4 percent from the field, 73.1 percent from the line. Those are good numbers for any college player, great numbers for a 6-foot-9 freshman center in the Southeastern Conference.

But numbers aren't what I remember from last year about Patrick Patterson. Here's what I remembered/loved last year about Patrick Patterson: The sight of him standing at the foul line at the Florida game, ready to shoot free throws, hurting so badly, cramping so horribly, he could barely stand, having to back away from the foul line so the pain and the exhaustion could subside enough for him to concentrate on his foul shots.

Yet wild gators could not have drug him off the floor.

The nation paid little attention to that. Kentucky finished 18-13 last season. The Billy G./Big Blue adjustment dominated the storylines. Plus, Patterson got hurt. There was that stress fracture that cost him the season's final five games.

See, the national scene remembers what it saw in the national tournament. And Patterson didn't play in the NCAA Tournament.

If he had played, the Huntington, W.Va., native might be higher than No. 14 on NBADraft.net, or 17th on Draft Express. He might be first-team All-America in the various pre-season magazines, instead of second- or third- or honorable mention. If he were not coming back from injury, he might be threatening Tyler Hansbrough at the top of pre-season Player of the Year lists.

But Patterson is returning from injury. Sporting the beginnings of that now-famous Afro, Patterson said Wednesday he could be 100 percent by week's end. He said he's working on his ballhandling, his ability to drive to the basket, his perimeter game.

"Basically doing the things a small forward does," he said.

Patrick Patterson with the skills of a small forward? Now that's scary.

"I don't want to put any limits on Patrick," Gillispie said.

Actually, the coach would love "Pat" to stay at Kentucky four years, six years, eight years. He'd love to have him forever. As much as you and I love watching Patrick P. play, his coach loves him more.

But (apologies to Sting) when you love someone, sometimes you have to set them free.

"He has a lot of components to have a fantastic year," Gillispie said. "And that's what he's going to try to do, because he knows if he does that then we do well. And then we'll talk about those kinds of things after the year."

Patterson agreed: "Until the year is over, I want to put that in the back of my mind."

Actually, Gillispie hopes there's nothing to talk about.

"I want it to be a no-brainer," the coach said.

So here's another no-brainer: Let's enjoy Patrick P. while we can.

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