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Patterson made right decision - both times

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MBSK 09_10 UK_FLA Web 07.jpgIt seems like we were here a year ago, right in this room.

I can remember Patrick Patterson sitting front and center at the Memorial Coliseum media room table. The clicks of a dozen cameras still registers in my head. I can still see Patrick Patterson's parents, Tywanna and Buster, in the corner of my eye sitting just a few feet to the left of Patterson. The topic of the NBA Draft still resonates in my eardrums like a vivid dream. 

That memory still seems ever present.

Well, truth be told, last year's flashback wasn't just your ordinary case of deja vu. Nearly one year ago, the media, fans and coaches sat in that very same room and listened to Patterson announce an important, albeit predictable decision.

Last year he made the right choice in returning to the University of Kentucky. This year he has made another one in announcing his decision to remain in the NBA Draft and turn pro.

"I thought it was time for me to go, time for me to start a new chapter in my life (and) time for me to move on," Patterson said Friday. "I've had a great collegiate career here these past three years. I've had a lot of fun and created a lot of memories."

And with that, the centerpiece of Kentucky basketball -- the one constant in three rollercoaster, exciting and sometimes tumultuous years of basketball -- is gone. Patterson is NBA bound. It's the right decision, as it was last year when he decided to turn down a likely first-round selection for one more stab at championship glory.

When Patterson signed with UK, the program was on unstable ground. The hiring of a new head coach, one Billy Clyde Gillispie, was a shot of rejuvenation in a suddenly leveling program, but it wasn't a sure thing.

UK had been without a big-name signee in some years, it was void of a Final Four appearance since the 1998 season -- the longest such drought in school history -- and was (as we all now know), headed for darker days. 

Kentucky suffered embarrassing losses to Gardner-Webb, San Diego and VMI in Patterson's first two seasons at UK. The team went from a borderline NCAA Tournament pick in 2008 to a National Invitation Tournament team in 2009. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Gillispie was fired.

"The first two years here at the University of Kentucky were not the true Kentucky years that we've had in the past," Patterson said. 

And yet the one constant bright spot on those two turbulent years was Patterson.

He burst onto the scene in 2008 and shouldered the pressure and weight of the program as a freshman. In that first season, Patterson averaged 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds en route to Freshman All-America honors. Last season, even in the midst of the program's struggles, he remained the rock of the team and averaged 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds.

His stock was bullish. The consensus from NBA scouts was Patterson was a first-round, borderline lottery pick. The opportunity to turn pro was there and nobody would have thought twice about it if he would have stayed in the 2009 NBA Draft.

"I thought about it a lot," Patterson said. "I talked to Jodie (Meeks) about it. I was definitely considering it."

Even Patterson's mom, Tywanna, was unsure if Patrick would fit in with a new coach, a new system and new players.

"At first when he decided to (come back last year), I was like, 'Are you sure?' " Tywanna Patterson said.

Ultimately, though, the bitter taste of two years that didn't meet his team expectations, the prospect to improve his individual game under head coach John Calipari and the chance to truly compete for a national championship for the first time in his career was an opportunity too tantalizing to pass up.

"No regrets on coming back," Patterson said of his final season. "I'm fully satisfied with my decision to return. I developed my game, got confidence in my jump shot, improved my jump shot, knocked down threes, just broadened my game. Ball handling, driving from the perimeter -- just overall confidence in myself skyrocketed this year."

MBSK 09_10 UK_FLA Web 17.jpgKentucky fell short of the national championship and Patterson was sometimes overlooked, even underappreciated on a team full of stars -- he was even criticized by a minority of UK fans when the team suffered its first loss of the season at South Carolina. But Patterson turned in another solid season and helped push UK to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. He was once again the quintessential leader.

Tywanna Patterson said the decision to return last year was the right one. As all mothers can do, Mrs. Patterson could visibly see a different, happier person in her son, one who was satisfied with his decision to return last year.

Although UK didn't win that national title -- the one glaring void that Patterson said "definitely" made him think about return again -- Patterson has once again made the right decision. It is his time to go.

Even if it's only a few spots higher in the draft, as Calipari said on multiple occasions this year, he has improved his stock immensely. (It's arbitrary, but look at the contract Patterson will sign in a couple of months and consider what that would have been last year.)

"Last year I wasn't really confident with my jump shot or things on the perimeter like guarding perimeter players," Patterson said. "I was pretty much just post-oriented with my back to the basket and guarding big men. Coming back this year, I definitely improved foot speed, quickness and being able to guard on the perimeter. Coming back for my junior year I improved tremendously."

Patterson cited meeting new people, his teammates, his coaches, the NCAA Tournament and, oddly enough, Calipari tripping over his own feet at practice among his favorite memories.

Asked what he hoped people at Kentucky will remember him by, Patterson described the ultimate basketball star.

"Somebody who wore the jersey with pride," Patterson said. "A great ambassador for the university,  somebody who worked hard on and off the court; accomplished things on the court (by) winning an SEC championship; off the court, getting his degree and someone who pretty much put everyone else before himself. He put his teammates before himself and also he was just a hard worker. He did things for the university. He went around with a smile on his face. He never turned down an autograph or a picture. He was always there for the fans and the fans were always there for him."

Patterson was all those things.

From the coaching change, to the new faces, to the injury in 2008, to the NIT and even a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, Patterson has experienced it all.

"I definitely feel like a veteran," Patterson said. "I feel like this is my fifth year here at Kentucky. I've been through so much."

In the end, Patterson will go down as one of the most revered players in Kentucky basketball history. He didn't win a national championship and was never named a first-team All-American, but Patrick Patterson leaves Kentucky as one of the most important players to ever put on a Kentucky uniform.

"Finally, to be a part of history and part of a team that got Kentucky back to its rightful place among the elite programs across the nation, I definitely think that I was a part of the progression of getting Kentucky back to the true spot, to the true top point where it needs to be and where it should be," Patterson said.

His work is finally done. It's his time to go.

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