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By LARRY VAUGHT
He still knew a few of the University of Kentucky senior baseball players because he had taken classes with them before he left UK after his junior season to play in the NBA this year.
That’s why is was so special for Patrick Patterson when he threw out the first pitch during the University of Kentucky vs. Rice University college baseball game at Minute Maid park on Friday March 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be able to have free time like this and see a Kentucky baseball game is special for me,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Patterson Friday after throwing out the first pitch in a UK baseball jersey with the No. 50 he wore during his basketball career. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It worked out perfect for me to do this. We had practice early and then had the rest of the evening free to get to see my college baseball team play here in Houston.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Patterson, who admitted he is not a Ã¢â‚¬Å“big baseball fanatic,Ã¢â‚¬Â had thrown out the first pitch at Minute Maid ParkÃ‚Â last season when the Astros hosted the Cincinnati Reds in August after they had made Patterson a first-round draft pick.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I had done it for the Astros when I first got here, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s different doing it for Kentucky, my alma mater,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This time was a lot more special. It means more because it was Kentucky and I got to watch them play. They even gave me a jersey.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Patterson has plenty of UK momentos because he was a two-time all-Southeastern Conference selection, SEC Freshman of the Year and a preseason All-American before his final season. He finished his UK career with 1,564 points, 791 rebounds and 152 blocked shots.
He is averaging 4.6 points and three rebounds per game this season for the Rockets with career highs of 20 points against Detroit on Feb. 22 and 10 rebounds twice against Toronto and Portland.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Things are going pretty well. I am trying to work my way up the ladder and be even more productive,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just try to be energetic, enthusiastic and do what it takes to win. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve made a couple of moves and trades. We lost a great deal of leadership with Shane (Battier), but teammates are picking it up.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like Kentucky where if a person gets injured and then comes back you get your job back when you are healthy. The NBA is a business and is all about winning. Someone can take your spot any day at practice. You always have to be your best.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Patterson continues to be at his best off the court just like he was at Kentucky. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s done community service work as outlined in his contract with speaking engagements, basketball clinics and hospital visits.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I like going out in the community to see people just like I did at Kentucky,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You always have players that want to do more than the average player. Every NBA player is out there doing something. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about how you carry yourself and how you interact with people and if you want to do more than you have to do to interact with people.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Patterson had no trouble interacting with the UK baseball players.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They welcomed me with open arsm. They were friendly,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson, who hoped to obtain tickets for all the baseball players to see the Rockets play Saturday night, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a mutual respect level. After I threw out the pitch, I asked them if they woudl sign the baseball for me and they all did. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no jealousy or anything like that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Patterson still is amazed by the feeling he had when he returned to Rupp Arena during the all-star break to watch UK play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I thought I would walk in all nonchalant and enjoy being with people that loved me. But I really missed the place. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I would miss it that much but seeing guys wearing that Kentucky jersey I loved so much got to me,Ã¢â‚¬Â Patterson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I kind of felt sad not being back at Kentucky. That was kind of unexpected. I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expecting to want to be back out there so much.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now, though, Patterson is back focused on trying to help the Rockets make a playoff push in his rookie season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are one game under .500 and have 19 games left,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we get on a roll Ã¢â‚¬â€ and we have a stretch of seven or eight games at home Ã¢â‚¬â€ we can move up a spot and make the playoffs. We need the teams in front of us to lose, but if we can win more than we lose we can do it and make the playoffs.Ã¢â‚¬Â