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Starkey: Patterson carving niche in Pitt lore

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Lamar Patterson drives past Wake Forest's Travis McKie during the first half of the Panthers' 80-65 victory Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.
Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 10:39 p.m.
 

Let's start with a bold statement that really isn't that bold: Lamar Patterson is the best all-around player of the Jamie Dixon/Ben Howland era.

I didn't say best player. That distinction belongs to DeJuan Blair, with Sam Young close behind.

I didn't say most important player, though Patterson, a fifth-year senior, undoubtedly is one of those as he expertly leads Pitt into the ACC.

I said “best all-around” — versatile, if you prefer — and the evidence was on display again Saturday in Pitt's 80-65 drubbing of Wake Forest. Patterson had 27 points, six assists, five rebounds, a block and a steal.

He scored inside. He scored outside. He scored on a short fade-away, a floater, a missed-free-throw put-back and bombs from everywhere (4 of 7 from 3-point range). He pulled down a rebound and led his own fast break. He drove and dished with the shot clock dwindling. He found cutters for layups out of the set offense.

Afterward, I presented Dixon with the question: Is Patterson the best all-around player he's had?

“The most versatile, definitely,” Dixon said.

OK. Versatile. Another especially versatile player from Pitt's basketball renaissance was Brad Wanamaker. Patterson is a better shooter and scorer. He isn't an elite defender, by any means, but he has become a good team defender.

Patterson also has become a leader, and Pitt personifies his team-first, share-the-ball mentality. The Panthers staged a passing clinic Saturday with 19 assists on 31 field goals.

“A lot of it comes from Lamar,” said point guard James Robinson, when asked about the team's unselfish approach.

At his current pace, Patterson will finish his Pitt career as the all-time leader in games played and will have a good shot at landing in the top 15 in points, assists, steals, 3-pointers and 3-point shooting percentage.

His updated season numbers are 17.9 points per game, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists, making him a strong early candidate for ACC Player of the Year — though Dixon cautioned, “We're only three games in. We gotta win the league to get that.”

The country has begun to take notice. Around halftime, ESPN's Jay Bilas tweeted the following: “Another really good senior is Pitt's Lamar Patterson. Versatile, improved handler and shooter and an excellent passer. Terrific player.”

That continued an avalanche of national praise over the past week. CBS Sports analyst Gary Parrish listed Patterson among the 25 early contenders for national player of the year. His colleague, Jon Rothstein, included Patterson among three players who “aren't getting enough attention.”

Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik, after the game, labeled Patterson one of the “elite” players in the ACC.

ESPN's Dick Vitale, in a conference call this week, fielded a general Pitt question from the Trib's Kevin Gorman and focused his answer on Patterson.

“Lamar Patterson has been absolutely sensational,” Vitale said. “He's versatile (there's that word again), multidimensional, able to score. He can do a lot of things. He's a major, major force.”

The key to it all was Patterson losing 20 pounds — Dixon pegged it at 15 — between late August and the season opener. Pitt's coaching staff wasn't overly pleased with Patterson's conditioning for stretches of his career. When he returned from a summer injury, he knew this was his time.

“I started eating better,” Patterson said, smiling. “A lot more cookin' at home, not too much fried food. I know we need me to be at the top of my game.”

He's there.

Enjoy it.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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