Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie won his first major recruiting battle over his new SEC-rival Florida and a likely consistent tussle with perennial power Duke when Huntington High (W.Va.) power forward Patrick Patterson chose the Wildcats on the last day of the month-long spring signing period.
Patterson announced his decision to play for the Wildcats at a news conference at Huntington High, which was carried live on WKYT in Kentucky.
Patterson said during the news conference that he had spent a lot of time going over the decision the past few weeks as Kentucky, Florida and Duke made their final pitch. Earlier this week, Patterson's good friend and like Patterson, one of the last top players unsigned this week, Houston Bellaire High's Jai Lucas, signed with Florida over Kentucky and Oklahoma State. Lucas said he was going to attempt to convince Patterson to sign with the Gators.
Gillispie now completes an impressive spring class and fills a major need for the Wildcats. Kentucky lost its primary low-post threat when Randolph Morris decided to go to the NBA as a free agent (he had already gone through the NBA draft) and signed with the New York Knicks after the college season. The 6-9 Patterson, who was a high school teammate of USC-bound O.J. Mayo, will likely compete for starter's minutes for Gillispie. Gillispie picked up a major coup when he got one-time Michigan signee Alex Legion earlier in the spring. Michigan let Legion out of his commitment once Tommy Amaker was fired and John Beilein was hired.
"We're grateful he chose to extend his recruitment to the last
day of the signing period because it gave us a chance to develop a
relationship and that's the most important part of recruiting,"
Gillispie said in a statement.
Patterson said during the news conference that Lucas and Legion were calling him Tuesday trying to convince him to go to their respective schools.
Patterson said he decided on Kentucky on Tuesday. He said the ability for his family and friends to see him play at Kentucky was a big reason for the decision.
When a reporter asked him about the impact Gillispie had on his decision, Patterson said that he had always liked Kentucky, the program and the support it receives. That does beg the question as to whether or not Patterson still would have signed with Kentucky had Tubby Smith still been the coach since Smith was recruiting Patterson prior to his decision to leave for Minnesota in late March.
Patterson joins Legion, A.J. Stewart and Mike Williams, the latter two forwards, in the Kentucky freshmen class. The Wildcats should have much more balance with Patterson playing close to the basket. Kentucky returns a solid backcourt with Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley, Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper while Perry Stevenson is the lone top contributing frontcourt player. So, the addition of Patterson allows Kentucky to have much more of an inside-out offense, although the Wildcats could go with four guards quite often with the talent they'll have on the team. Expect Kentucky to challenge SEC East favorite Tennessee along with Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia.
During his high school career, Patterson helped lead the Highlanders to an
unprecedented three-straight Class AAA championships, the last with
the help of Mayo. The two led Huntington to a 25-2 record and a national
ranking this past season.
Patterson's senior season was his best. He averaged 17 points,
12 rebounds and four blocks. He had 14 points and seven blocks in Huntington's 103-61 victory over South Charleston in this year's Class AAA title game.
Patterson was West Virginia's 2006 Player of the Year and this year had 63
votes to Mayo's 93. Both were also selected to the McDonald's
All-American team and to the Class AAA all-state first team.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.