Patterson looking forward to upcoming season

Published 3:21 am Tuesday, May 12, 2009

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Patrick Patterson could have gone through the motions, taken the trips, gotten a taste of what life in the NBA is like.

In the end, though, he just wasn’t into it. Too much has changed in the last month for the Kentucky forward. There’s a new head coach, a new offense, a new energy around the program.

Patterson knows the NBA will always be there. The chance to earn his degree and win a national title at Kentucky will not.

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It’s why the 6-foot-9 Patterson says he withdrew his name from the NBA’s early entry list and opted to return to the Wildcats for his junior year next fall, a decision he made without playing so much as one second in one of the early NBA pre-draft camps.

‘‘I felt that if I did do workouts, it wouldn’t do anything because I felt in my heart I wanted to come back for next year,’’ Patterson said. ‘‘By me going out there and doing workouts, it just wouldn’t prove anything for myself and I know what I need to work on the most.’’

Patterson averaged 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds during his sophomore season with the Wildcats and was named to the All-Southeastern Conference first team.

He threw his name into the NBA draft less than a month ago but did not sign with an agent, clearing the way for him to return to school. While he believes he would have been selected in the first round, he felt the chance to come back to Kentucky was simply too good to pass up.

New coach John Calipari has helped the Wildcats land one of the top recruiting classes in the country, including point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton. Kentucky is also a finalist for guard John Wall, one of the top high school prospects in the country.

The influx of talent combined with Calipari’s dribble-drive offense has Patterson optimistic he’ll finally get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. He missed Kentucky’s lone NCAA tourney game his freshman year with an ankle injury. The Wildcats failed to make the NCAAs for the first time in 18 years this spring, helping lead to Billy Gillispie’s ouster after just two years on the job.

‘‘All the weapons we have coming in, that helped (me make a decision) as well,’’ Patterson said. ‘‘The caliber team we have for next year, competing for a national title … just hopefully we can make a run for Kentucky.’’

Besides, there are certain benefits to being one of the key players on the suddenly white-hot Wildcats.

‘‘I thought I could be me and come back to campus, have fun and be mobbed by a bunch of fans at the mall,’’ Patterson said with a laugh. ‘‘Just all the attention I’ve been getting, me and my teammates, that played a role. I still get to be seen as Patrick Patterson to UK fans.’’

Buster Patterson said he and his wife Tywanna told their son to do what he wants, though they will take out an insurance policy just in case an injury derails his pro potential.

‘‘I’m excited for him,’’ Buster Patterson said. ‘‘The next level is all work. This is still fun. It allows for him to be a kid.’’

A kid who is pretty serious in the classroom too. Patterson expects to complete his degree in communications next spring, a year ahead of schedule. That doesn’t mean he’s dead set on heading to the NBA next spring.

‘‘Hopefully I can have the chance to leave after my junior year, but if not I can come back again for my senior year,’’ he said.

Patterson said he has had little contact with teammate and roommate Jodie Meeks, who also declared for the draft. Meeks sent Patterson a text message asking if it was true that Patterson was returning. Patterson simply replied ‘‘yes,’’ and doesn’t plan to lobby Meeks one way or the other.

‘‘I want him to make his decision on his own feelings and his own thoughts and not have my decision weigh on his,’’ Patterson said. ‘‘I just said ’Best of luck with your decision and keep me updated.’’’