A year after the trade that sent Patrick Patterson to the Toronto Raptors, we caught up with his mother.
It was 1994, in a YMCA gym in Huntington, West Virginia. “Pat, put your hands up! Defense!” Tywanna Patterson yelled. “What’s defense?” her five-year old son replied. “Put your hands up! Block his shot! Don’t let them get the ball!” Mrs. Patterson shouted from the stands. In Buddy League Basketball, Patrick Patterson learned his first lesson of basketball.
It proved to be an important lesson. Patterson, 25, is in his second season with the Toronto Raptors (17-6), a team that credits much of their success last season to their defensive effort and execution. They currently boast the second-best point differential in the NBA, scoring eight more points per game than their opponents. The Raptors have maintained the top spot in the Eastern Conference through the first quarter of the season.
“This Toronto team plays with a lot of heart and passion. They just want to win. I love that,” Mrs. Patterson said. “Kyle [Lowry], oh my God. He gets on the floor and gets that ball. That’s how I want them to play. This team has a lot of upside. They can go as far as they want as long as they play with heart and passion.”
Patterson has played a pivotal role in Toronto’s hot start. The 6-foot-9 forward is the first big off the bench and often gets the call to close out games. He makes smart decisions on both ends of the court. This season he has established himself as a long-range threat for the Raptors. He is shooting 45 per cent from beyond the arc, which compels opponents to go out and guard him. This opens up driving lanes for the likes of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams, and gives Jonas Valanciunas more room to operate down low. Patterson has become Toronto’s “stretch four.”
Basketball wasn’t Patterson’s first love—at least, it wasn’t his only one. Growing up, his parents introduced him to a wide array of activities and sports. He was a Cub Scout, honor roll student and finished second in his fifth-grade spelling bee. A natural athlete, Patterson played basketball and football in elementary school. His mother points to her son’s good hands for catching. As he entered junior high, he had a tough decision to make.
“I remember him playing football,” Mrs. Patterson recalled, “Patrick got tackled and got the wind knocked out of him.” She cautioned her son to be careful and told him she didn’t think football was the sport for him. The violent nature of the game worried her. “I was sitting up there about to have a heart attack.”
Speaking of hearts, Patterson has a passion for soccer. He played on the pitch for three years, which has helped with his footwork on the hardwood. He was in Brazil during the summer to take in some FIFA World Cup action. While reporting for BALLnROLL in March, Patterson told me if he could play any sport other than basketball professionally, it would be soccer. Chatty and candid, he has become quite the media darling in Toronto.
Patterson’s boisterous nature was evident from an early age. He and his mother were bowling partners. Once while Mrs. Patterson was lining up her shot, her son wailed, “Mom!” “What?” she replied as she lost focus. “I just wanted to say good luck,” the child answered with a grin. Patterson is known for trying to make people smile—except when it comes to his sporting foes. This kid has a mean competitive streak.
Patterson played basketball at the YMCA until he was 12 years old. He suited up for his eighth grade youth team and played well against All-Stars. His parents enrolled him in AAU basketball, where Patterson challenged the likes of Blake Griffin and Kyle Singler. The budding hoop star played on the Boo Williams Summer League team and Team USA. He earned McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand All-American honors.
Patterson was a key member of the the Huntington High dream team that took West Virginia by storm. His squad won three state championships from 2005 through 2007. The Washington, D.C. native gained plenty of exposure on the nationally-ranked team.
“That’s when we figured, hey, he’s pretty good! He’s good enough to maybe get a college scholarship,” Mrs. Patterson said. She recalls her son traveled a lot at Huntington and made several appearances on the national stage. Patterson received 18 college offers. He and his family were torn between the University of Kentucky, the University of Florida and Duke University.
Patterson ultimately chose Kentucky. It’s been four years since he graduated with a communications degree, but he and his family still hold the institution near and dear to their hearts. “Once a cat, always a cat,” Mrs. Patterson said. Wildcats head coach John Calipari wrote in his book Players First: Coaching From The Inside Out that Patterson was one of the best parts about coming to Kentucky. He described Patterson as an easy-to-coach veteran who helped the team on and off the court.
These traits have translated to the NBA, where Patterson is playing in his fourth season. It’s hard to believe how much has changed over the past year for Patterson. Last December, the then-member of the Sacramento Kings went to watch The Hunger Games with his mother in Sactown. He received a call informing him he had been traded to the Raptors on his way into the theater.
“Are you going to turn your phone off?” Mrs. Patterson asked.
“Oh, nothing,” the son answered as they both turned off their devices.
After the movie, the two got into the car and Patterson told his mom, “I just got traded to the Toronto Raptors.”
“Toronto… Canada?” she asked. She immediately gathered, “Canada. Great. We’re going to Canada.”
Mrs. Patterson had gone north of the 49th parallel only once before for a family reunion at Niagara Falls. She was relieved she already had a passport. She was even more relieved Patrick wasn’t going alone. The Kings sent Patterson along with Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes to Toronto in exchange for Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
Mrs. Patterson’s main concern was whether the Raptors would allow Patrick to “play his game.” She hoped he would be able to contribute and make the team better. “And it worked out. Thank goodness. It worked out,” she said.
Mrs. Patterson and her husband, Buster Patterson Jr., have visited their son in Toronto a few times. “Certain areas remind me of New York while other areas remind me of LA.” Patterson took his mother to see The Lion King at Ed Mirvish Theatre on Mother’s Day. “There’s a lot to do in Toronto,” Mrs. Patterson said. She will have plenty more opportunities to explore the city after her son inked a three-year deal in July to stick with the Raptors.
“I’m just glad you’re still a Raptor,” Patterson’s mom told him. “I am, too,” he replied. “We will be accountable to each other and for each other. We are brothers on and off the court. We motivate each other and push each other.”
Mrs. Patterson is convinced her son likes Toronto, though she added, “It took him a minute to get used to the weather. It’s cold. You just have to bundle up.”
Raptors fans helped her warm up last season when she and her husband were in town for the playoffs. “The fans were off the chain!” Mr. and Mrs. Patterson had seats in the arena for all the Raptors home playoff games. They didn’t travel to Brooklyn for the away games. Instead, they held down the fort at their son’s home in Toronto and joined fans at “Jurassic Park.”
Mr. and Mrs. Patterson are no strangers to showing up to support their son. They were in town during Toronto’s seven-game homestand last month and made the trip to Ohio on Tuesday when the Raptors visited the Cleveland Cavaliers. They attended all of Patterson’s games at Kentucky. In 2012, Mrs. Patterson took an early retirement from her job in Huntington’s Social Security office so she could watch her son play. “I am always so proud of him. He is our only son. He’s our pride and joy.”
“Thanks, mom, for everything you do. Nothing goes unnoticed,” Patterson wrote in a card he gave to his mother on Mother’s Day. “He’s a sweet guy,” the grateful mother said. “I hope when he’s ready to settle down and finds that perfect person, she’s as sweet as he is.” Patterson has insisted he doesn’t want to get married until he’s least 30. His mom said, “That’s five years from now, which is fine with me. I can wait on a daughter-in-law. I can wait on a grandchild. I’m not in a hurry.”
“Patrick is a blessing in disguise,” Mrs. Patterson said. “Him playing in the NBA is just the icing on the cake.”
She now follows the Raptors closely. “They remind me of a college team more than an NBA team because of the camaraderie, the closeness. They gel together like they’re brothers. Everyone is buying into the program and what coach Dwane Casey says.”
Mrs. Patterson is rooting for the Raptors to win the Atlantic Division again and to build upon last year’s postseason run. In the offseason, she said, “I think we can go further than we did last year.”
Follow Tywanna Patterson on Twitter: @TPatterson1119