Until that conception occurs, Knight will settle for the seven-foot Collier, the best Indiana recruit at center since Kent Benson came to Bloomington more than two decades ago. Knight also harvested three talented guards—A.J. Guyton, Michael Lewis and Luke Jimenez—in this year's crop and already has a signed letter of intent from one of the nation's top shooting guards, Luke Recker of Waterloo, Ind., for next season.
With these proficient youths in the fold, Knight's critical challenge this season was to bring out the potential in Patterson, his most gifted player. For two years Knight has been a human bellows, working to ignite a flame in his underachieving forward, who has at times played like he's on fire but more often has been just a smoldering ember. "Patterson is one of the most interesting kids I've ever had here," Knight said before the season. "He has always had an ability to determine when he's tired, and then [he figures] not as much is expected of him. His concentration slides. His effort slides. In a test of skills Patterson would test high. We've got to be able to test him in these other areas and get the same score."
Patterson is an Air Force brat, the product of a strict yet soft-spoken military upbringing. He was taught how to play basketball by his older brother Rodney in a tiny gym at Keflavik Air Force Base in Iceland. Patterson also lived in Turkey, Minnesota, California and Georgia before finally settling as a fifth-grader in Abilene, Texas, smack dab on the western end of the Bible Belt. A devout Christian and a talented gospel singer, Patterson has been singing baritone back home in a group called Harmony in Motion for the past five years. He is known to be such a mild-mannered young man that many of his neighbors in West Texas were worried when he announced he would play for the volatile Knight. Several of them even mailed letters to him and to the local Abilene newspaper strongly suggesting that he reconsider.
Patterson arrived in Bloomington as a first-team Parade All-America after averaging 27.3 points a game at Cooper High in Abilene. But he struggled as a freshman, averaging slightly more than seven points in 19 minutes per game. His inconsistent play continued as a sophomore. Seventeen times in 31 games last season he scored four or fewer field goals. For the season Patterson averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 turnovers and roughly 2.3 Knight tirades per game. "Coach is trying to get me to be like him on the basketball court," Patterson says. "Off the court I'm laid-back, but he says that on the court I need to be a warrior."
He was Genghis Khan for two nights last week in New York. Patterson buoyed a disheveled Indiana offense in the semifinal game against Evansville, finally clinching the 74-73 victory with a 10-foot baseline jumper as the buzzer sounded. Knight was not impressed. He had arrived in New York with tickets to Master Class, a Broadway show about opera star Maria Callas, who was renowned not only for her vocal virtuosity but also for her fiery temperament. Clearly, this was a case of one diva studying another. Knight displayed his own Tony Award-winning performance after the Evansville squeaker. "We didn't deserve this win," Knight said after the game. "In my record book we lost that game. I don't know about the players, but I know I hate to take something I don't deserve."
In the film session on the off day before the final, Knight criticized his entire team, except Patterson, whom he singled out for delivering the proper effort as well as the clutch shot against the Aces on an inbounds play that began with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. "With Andrae you hope those 1.2 seconds could change his career," Dakich said. "But we've learned to wait and see if he keeps moving forward."
Patterson's renewed confidence seemed to bubble over into the championship game. After scoring 17 points in the opening half, Patterson broke a 45-15 tie and put Indiana ahead for good with a three-pointer from the top of the key and then a steal and dunk with 12:22 left. That was all part of a stretch during which he scored 15 consecutive Hoosier points. He shot 10 for 13 from the field in the second half. "That was one of the best performances against a Duke team in the last decade," said Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski afterward. "We tried to defend him with big guys, with little guys, with two guys. Sometimes we had no guys, and that was about as effective as two guys."
Said Patterson, "In the second half I felt that I couldn't miss. It was weird, but for one night I had a chance to feel how Michael Jordan must feel every night."
It was the freshman Guyton who fed the ball to Patterson for most of the game. Guyton scored 16 points and dished out five assists in the NIT title game and ran the offense like a seasoned vet. He and his classmate Lewis combined for just one turnover 66 minutes. Collier added six points, playing only seven minutes because of foul trouble.
The victory was sublime for Knight, especially because he had vanquished two of his former players and prot�g�s, Evansville's Jim Crews and Krzyzewski. Knight was also happy for senior forward Haris Mujezinovic, who has endured his share of tongue-lashings in Bloomington but had 11 points in the final to make the all-tournament team. "I was tired of Coach Knight telling me that I've never won anything," said an elated Mujezinovic. "Maybe this win will keep him off my back for a while."