One day when he was about seven years old, Lamar Patterson stood in front of his family and made a bold proclamation. Patterson’s clan, from Lancaster, Pa., included two brothers who were 10 and seven years older than him, and both were accomplished athletes.
Pointing in the direction of brothers Lorne Creighton, who played basketball at Division II Kutztown University, and Perry Patterson, who was a Division I basketball prospect but wound up playing quarterback at Syracuse, young Lamar blurted out, “I’ll be better than both of you. You’re not that good.”
Suffice it to say that at that moment, Patterson insured himself a lifetime of no let-up from his brothers, of getting pounded in driveway and blacktop pick-up basketball games, and getting pushed to the brink of quitting in favor of safer pursuits. And that, in turn, may have led him to the NBA.
A day before he was to showcase his skills at the league’s draft combine in Chicago, Patterson laughed at the recollection of his brash, seven-year-old self and the havoc his words unleashed upon him.
“After that, my brothers kicked my butt,” Patterson said. “They bullied me, and they pushed me. Man, there were a lot of flagrant fouls when we played. And they wouldn’t let me beat them. I was about 19 or 20 before I ever did.
“But all that made me stronger, and it made me tough. I credit a lot of my game to my brothers.”
Patterson became a big-time Division I basketball prospect, good enough to have his pick of power conference schools. But given where he grew up, how tough he had become from all those driveway beat downs and his well-rounded game patterned in part after his hero Magic Johnson, it was only fitting he end up at Pittsburgh.
Asked to explain the core principles of his program during a press conference before an NCAA tournament game last March, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon could just have easily been talking about Patterson.
“I would guess unselfish is a word that sticks to us,” Dixon said. “I think toughness is something that we kind of embrace.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Patterson is neither an off-the-charts athlete nor a prototypically sized NBA two guard or small forward. But tough and unselfish are qualities through which Patterson can make a career in the NBA, just as Jimmy Butler, the former Marquette star to whom some scouts compare Patterson, has done.
Patterson is a typical Pitt product. He redshirted in 2009-10 after suffering an ankle injury, but he may well have anyway; at Pitt, redshirting is a common practice.
“At the time we were playing 10 games who had experience,” Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight said. “Lamar embraced [redshirting] and worked on his game. He’s been a great ambassador for some of our guys who have come up after him, when they get in the same situation. Some kids don’t want to redshirt. But Lamar will tell them, why transfer and sit out a year somewhere else. Why not sit out here and get better? Look at how it worked out for him and some of our other guys.”
As a redshirt freshman, Patterson played a role off the bench while playing both forward spots. The next two years he became a starter at small forward. And in 2013-14, after Pitt’s move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, he became a star, earning second-team all-league honors while leading the Panthers in scoring and assists. He’s just the third player in school history to rack up more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in his career.
Patterson doesn’t have that one, standout skill that could be his ticket to the NBA. But he was as versatile as a pair of khakis and a stat sheet stuffer throughout his college career, and he’s eager for the chance to prove he can do it at the next level.
Knight thinks Patterson can prove he belongs in the NBA.
“He has a very high basketball IQ,” Knight said. “He understands the game. Also he’s versatile. He’s a really good passer. He’s got really good vision, and a good feel for getting the ball out of his hands and finding cutters. It’s a culture the way we play, but more so, it’s one of his innate abilities. He’s very unselfish. That’s where the vision and passing and all of that comes from.”
Patterson appreciates that praise from Knight, but he thinks part of his game evolved from what he learned at Pittsburgh.
“The main thing was to hold yourself accountable,” Patterson said. “Coach Dixon preached on that. Be a good person. Everyone pretty much understood that, and it was a family atmosphere at Pitt. Coach Dixon was like a father figure in my life. He always believed in me, even when I got down on myself.”
Patterson had modest goals for the combine.
“I just hope I can show people who think I’m not athletic at all that I’m not just a stiff on the court,” he said. “And I want to show those GMs what I can do. I grew up playing this game, and I understand what it’s all about. Hopefully, a team falls in love with me.”