But when his sixth-grade class beat the ninth grade in basketball, Riley was the star. "Sister Mary Samuel of the Greasy Hair Laments said, 'See what it can do for you?' " recalls Riley. "That was when I began to realize you could get an identity by what you did on the court. I suppose you could call what I had been doing a search for some acknowledgment, for respect."
So in high school, Riley gradually shifted his focus from rebellion to sports. He played quarterback and forward for Linton High. "We had a great running back, Mike Meola. He'd run and run, and when we were on maybe the three-yard line, the coach would send in another running play for him. I'd check it off. I'd call 'Blue-99,' and he'd stand up in the huddle and go 'Aw, dammit, Riley.' "
Blue-99 was a quarterback sneak. "I loved to score," he says. "I rushed for about 50 yards that year and got 18 touchdowns."
He gave his high school basketball coach, Walt Przybylo, fits. "The first time I talked to him, in the ninth grade, I still had a little hood in me," Riley says. "I had cigarettes folded into the sleeve of my T shirt. He said, 'You'll never make it at Linton with that stuff,' and laughed and walked away."
Every day for half an hour before practice, Przybylo lectured the team on some element of life completely apart from basketball. "One day he'd go off on attitude," says Riley, "and another, on the injustice he'd suffered getting his car serviced. One night he gave our manager, Howie Lorch, and me a ride home from practice. On the way, he stopped into Flavorland to get a six-pack. It was snowing, and there were big banks of snow piled up. You couldn't see, and Howie said, 'Let's hide the car.' He got behind the wheel and drove the car into a fire hydrant and got it stuck there. The next day Walt Przybylo lectured the team about what these two idiots did to him the night before.
"Only now," continues Riley, "do I appreciate that. They slip into your subconscious, those voices. They stay in there, waiting."
Upon graduation, Riley declined an invitation from Bear Bryant to play football at Alabama and accepted one from Rupp for Kentucky basketball. "I used to have a hard time with coaches who were loud and demonstrative," says Riley. "I found it distracting. I operated best in a sea of tranquillity. The environment created by Rupp, his blinding emphasis on basketball, was work—but quiet, undistracted work."
You teach as you were taught. "Rupp's style of play and organized methods have carried over to the way Pat instructs," says Bill Bertka, Riley's assistant on the Lakers.
Riley brought along to Lexington an antic, edge-seeking unpredictability. He had a feathery jump shot, but he also committed more fouls than any three-year player in Wildcat history. Riley, who is Kentucky's 11th-leading career scorer, played on the 1966 team—Rupp's Runts, so named because no starter stood taller than 6'5"—that lost in the NCAA championship game to Texas Western. Riley, at 6'4", won 50 straight center jumps that season against men usually a head taller. He was no great leaper, but he had guile.
"On the dip of the ball," Riley says conspiratorially, "the tendency is for both players to flex and go. I would flex first and jump first. I would put my elbow out, the other guy would go up and lift me. Henry Finkel of Dayton was seven feet and he lifted me a half body above his head."