LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Patrick Patterson kept college basketball coaches across the country in the dark while he was deciding where to attend school.
Now that he's picked Kentucky, there's nobody - save perhaps his new coach - more in the spotlight, and that suits Patterson just fine.
"It feels good to know that everybody knows me, everybody can't wait to see what I can do," said Patterson, a 6-foot-8 freshman who led Huntington High to three straight state championships in West Virginia, the last alongside Southern Cal recruit O.J. Mayo.
With a guard-heavy team surrounding him and center Randolph Morris gone to the NBA, the bluechip power forward recruit will likely be counted on immediately as the Wildcats' primary scorer in the post.
How quickly he adjusts could determine whether the Wildcats will be improved or overmatched in the first year under Billy Gillispie.
Patterson says the right things. It's a team game, he says, and everybody's a piece of the puzzle. Still, he realizes the jigsaw may have given him an extra large slice, at least when it comes to expectations.
Not only is he Gillispie's top recruit - and Kentucky's most ballyhooed since the current crop of seniors were freshmen - but he plays a position the team has struggled to fill since the departure of Chuck Hayes three years ago.
Guard Ramel Bradley said even in the early days of practice he's seen Patterson mature beyond where Bradley himself was as a freshman.
"Sometimes he has the freshman mistakes, not going hard every single time, letting fatigue get to you," Bradley said. "But he's working hard. He's learning, and he's improving."
As he improves, so too are the other post players assigned to guard him in practice.
"He's very athletic, skilled and tough," sophomore Mark Coury said. "If you're trying to find your man down low, you can count on him to come over and help you."
This Wildcats team is so small, Patterson may have to play center as well as forward. Either way, he says he worked throughout the summer to improve on a post game that college coaches already found impressive.
"I want to catch the ball like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan do with my face to the basket," he said. "I'm trying to work on a consistent midlevel shot, from about 15 feet out, and taking the ball strong to the basket from the wing."
On defense, Gillispie is counting on Patterson and Perry Stevenson to be the primary shot-blockers.
"When you draw up a power forward for me, he possesses everything you need to have," Gillispie said. "He has great size and athletic ability, extremely long arms. He has really good hands. He's tougher than anything."
Months after most of the bluechip recruits had decided where they would attend college, Patterson hadn't made up his mind. Even in May, when he sat behind a microphone to announce his choice, the coaches from Kentucky, Duke and Florida waited in suspense.
Not until he pulled out a Kentucky hat - beige with the blue letters "UK" printed on it - did Gillispie's first recruiting coup at Kentucky become official.
Patterson says nobody was more relieved than him once he finally made up his mind.
"It felt real good when everything was over, no more media, no more friends asking me, 'Where are you going to go?' and giving their opinions about where they wanted me to go," he said. "It was like a weight off my shoulders, a breath of fresh air."
Early on, it seemed the Florida Gators were the likeliest choice, especially when Billy Donovan opted to stay there rather than go to Kentucky or the NBA's Orlando Magic.
Besides Donovan, the other influential Gator in Patterson's decision was close friend Jai Lucas, a point guard prospect and son of former NBA star John Lucas. They had long discussed attending college together, and when Lucas made up his mind, he pushed Patterson to follow him to Gainesville.
"It's like a distant memory," Patterson said. "I still think about it, talking to Jai all the time, how we talked about what college we were going to go to."
And since he chose Kentucky, how often have they spoken?
"Actually, I lost his number," Patterson said.
It was unintentional, he insists, and would like to catch up soon. For now, however, he has bigger things on his mind.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.