The promise of tomorrow
Patterson signing gives UK hope, but no guarantees
Posted: Thursday May 17, 2007 12:48AM; Updated: Thursday May 17, 2007 9:26AM
At 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, there were 7,373 users on the CatsPause message board on Rivals.com, getting ready to discuss a press conference at a high school gym in Huntington, W.V. The presser also happened to be Webcast live by WKYT in Lexington, which bills itself as "Your Official Home for the Kentucky Wildcats." The star of the show was a 6-foot-8, 18-year-old power forward named Patrick Patterson, who is the No. 15 overall recruit in Rivals.com's Class of 2007 rankings, and the only player in Rivals' entire top 150 who had yet to choose a college.
Patterson, whose decision was between defending national champ Florida, Kentucky and Duke, soon ended the suspense by accessorizing his big-day outfit -- a white T-shirt, jeans and a long chain around his neck -- with a beige hat. On the front of it were two bold, blue letters, intersecting: UK.
Within seconds, the Kentucky board erupted with posts such as "I'm giddy like a school girl" and "I JUST POOPED MY PANTS." It was the unrestrained joy of ... what, exactly? Not victory -- a championship might happen in a few years' time, if Billy Gillispie works his standard turnaround magic in Lexington. Patterson does not, however, instantaneously boost UK into the title picture. Wildcats fans' reactions were better described as the ecstasy of hope -- of having something promising on the horizon for a program that had stagnated of late under Tubby Smith.
Hope can fill the void between now and the time when these uber-recruits -- Patterson and fellow five-star UK commitment Alex Legion -- are revealed not to be saviors but just pretty decent freshmen. Hope is infections, too: By 4:45 p.m., one hour after the announcement, the CatsPause crowd had grown to 11,598.
We (the fans, the media, everyone) tend to get carried away with our discussion of late signees. If the next Kevin Durant picks your school, then all by means, feel free to soil your drawers. But the slow-to-decide recruit who was the center of attention on Monday, Houston point guard Jai Lucas, who committed to Florida, is the 42nd-ranked player in the Class of 2007. He's not even the highest Lucas in the class; that would be unrelated Kalin Lucas, a Michigan State signee, at No. 38. Wednesday's focal point, Patterson, is 15th overall, not first or second. He'll be a starter and a solid rebounder, but is far from a polished scorer. The only thing setting Lucas and Patterson apart from their elite-prep brethren is that they created more suspense ... and hence more buzz in the media.
(Recall that the guy for whom we performed a similar overreaction routine in the spring of 2006, Darrell Arthur, turned out to be a solid sixth man for Kansas as a freshman, not a star. Also, Arthur was a better prospect than Patterson coming out of high school, and remains a better NBA prospect.)
Patterson's decision means more for Kentucky in terms of momentum -- the proof that Gillispie has the program on the right track -- than it does for instant results. Regardless of what happened today, I'd be shocked if anyone other than Tennessee wins the SEC next year. But I'd also be shocked if Gillispie doesn't have UK consistently in the league title hunt in 2009 and beyond.
Even at Kentucky, though, a great recruiting class doesn't necessarily translate into incredible results on the floor. One need to only go back three years for a perfect example. In the late signing period of 2004, Smith went on a tear, signing three five-star recruits -- point guard Rajon Rondo, shooting guard Joe Crawford and center Randolph Morris. Rivals.com called it "one of the most impressive late signing periods ever," and ranked UK the No. 1 class of 2004. As freshmen, Morris and Rondo helped get the Kelenna Azubuike/Chuck Hayes 'Cats to the Elite Eight ... and since then all UK has produced from that Class is two straight second-round exits as No. 8 seeds, which adds up to a rather large disappointment.
The 2007 recruiting discussion in the coming days or weeks, mostly because there's little else to discuss now that Patterson has committed, will turn to final class rankings. Had he donned a Florida hat today, the Gators would have been Rivals' No. 1 class. As it is now with Patterson at Kentucky, that honor will go to either USC or Kansas State, and UK will likely crack the Top 25.
This stuff, again, is just fodder for the hope machine. The rankings can pan out when erstwhile straight-to-the-NBA players like Greg Oden and Durant are involved, but when they deal with still-developing prospects, like the ones Florida and Kentucky have in '07-08, it's more of a crapshoot.
On a day when emotions and enthusiasm ran out of control over recruiting news, I think it's only fair to leave you, the readers, with something of a reality check rather than a snappy conclusion. I looked up Rivals.com's top 10 classes from 2003, which is the most recent group we can evaluate over a four-year stretch, and decided it was worth reviewing how they fared. There is some high comedy in this list -- or more specifically, in how little success the teams on it enjoyed.
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