Patrick Patterson isn’t quite ready to say he’s ready to move on.
Yet listen to the Kentucky junior superstar talk, and it’s clear he’s running out of reasons to stay.
When Patterson opted to return to Kentucky for his junior year last spring rather than enter the NBA Draft, he said he was doing it because he wanted to get his degree, play in an NCAA tournament game and help the Wildcats win the Southeastern Conference title.
Check, check and check.
Patterson will graduate in May and the third-ranked Wildcats (28-2, 13-2 SEC) are a virtual lock to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAAs begin in two weeks. And a win over rival Florida (20-10, 9-6) on Senior Day at Rupp Arena on Sunday and the Wildcats will have their 44th SEC title all to themselves.
Though he hasn’t ruled anything out, Patterson opted to join in on the Senior Day festivities along with teammates Mark Krebs, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson “just in case” he wasn’t around to soak it all in next year.
“I have received my degree, and my whole family is coming in to see me graduate,” Patterson said. “As far as taking the next step to the NBA, I’m not sure about that yet.”
Patterson probably won’t be the only non-senior possibly making his final bows in front of the Big Blue faithful on Sunday. Freshman stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are considered by most experts to be among the top players in the country and even coach John Calipari isn’t holding out much hope that they’ll come back for their sophomore years rather than head to the NBA.
Calipari joked Wall and Cousins won’t participate in Senior Day because “it’s kind of hard to graduate in one year,” but admitted after Kentucky’s 80-68 win at Georgia on Wednesday that it would be difficult for them to pass up the NBA considering both are likely Top 5 picks.
Patterson’s tenure has been a test of his patience and a tribute to his perseverance. He chose Kentucky over Florida because of the chance to play close to his hometown of Huntington, WV, and the opportunity to lead the Wildcats back to national prominence.
It took a little longer than he planned.
Patterson was a breakout star his freshman year only to suffer a leg injury a couple of weeks before the NCAA tournament and miss the rest of the season. His sophomore year he stoically kept his head while the program imploded around Billy Gillispie, who was fired after Kentucky failed to make the NCAAs for the first time in nearly two decades.
Patterson admits it’s hard not to think about what might have been.
“I would’ve liked it to work out a lot better, from coming in my freshman year with my ankle injury and all the hardships we had last season,” he said. “I’d like to take away some of those things, but I’m satisfied with the choice that I made.”
Especially this year. Patterson has made it a point to delegate to some of his freshman teammates in an effort to fit in. While his scoring average (15.0) and rebounding average (7.6) are both the lowest of his career, he’s never been happier. The Wildcats are winning and restoring some of the luster it once had.
One more win and the Wildcats will have their first outright SEC title since 2005.
“We believe that we deserve the SEC title and we don’t want to share it,” he said.
If they can beat the Gators, they won’t have to. Kentucky pulled away for an 89-77 win in Gainesville on Jan. 12, though Calipari says Florida is much improved.
“It’ll be a hard game,” he said. “I mean the game down there was hard. It was a tie game with a few minutes to go. Eric Bledsoe went absolutely crazy. Daniel Orton played out of his mind, if you remember he blocked three balls in one possession. So, we had one of our best efforts, and barely beat them.”
It will be an emotionally charged atmosphere. Patterson expects the waterworks to flow from Harris and isn’t sure if he’ll be able to keep his emotions under control. Not that it matters. He’s come a long way.
“All in all Kentucky was the best choice for me, and I’ve loved every moment of being here,” he said.