Dec. 6, 2003
There's a chilling feeling for anyone who's visited somewhere that was later devastated by disaster. It's the same sensation a driver experiences after narrowly missing a tragic accident.
While most wouldn't consider the decision on college to be life and death, it is that way for senior swingman J.R. Patrick. He almost signed to play basketball at Baylor University.
Watching the images from Waco on TV caused Patrick's stomach to churn. He thought he was going to play for the Bears during his high-scoring sophomore year at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D. until he became uncomfortable with the way things were going at the Big 12 Conference school.
"I thought I was all set to be a Bear," says Patrick. "They said they wanted me; needed me with a spot ready to go. One of the reasons they had a spot was an assistant told me things were really unstable. Players didn't respect the coaches or the program and several were probably going to elsewhere. While I appreciated his honesty, it made me have second thoughts on what I wanted to do."
It was just an uncomfortable feeling that dropped Baylor from the top of Patrick's list to fifth.
"After what happened there, I just thank God I'm here and made the decision I did," said Patrick. "My mom called me right after she heard what happened and said the same thing."
What happened was the tragic murder of Santa Clara native Patrick Dennehy to be followed later by the resignation of Head Coach Dave Bliss due to violations of NCAA and institutional rules.
Patrick had received letters from Bliss and his staff since his freshman year of high school and always felt the courtship would end in a happy marriage. However, he found another love after talking with former Bronco star Steve Nash.
"Coach Davey gave me his phone number and I was torn on what to do," says Patrick. "I called him about 10:30 on the night before one of his playoff games and got his machine. He called back about 10 minutes later and was just great. He sold me on the program, the school and Coach Davey. I decided right then that this would be home for me."
Like many homes, there have been a few hurdles that have caused pain, but build character along the way. The summer before his junior year at SCU, Patrick ripped up his knee playing in a 3-on-3 three tournament that required surgery. There were only glimpses of the kid the Broncos were counting on to put up big numbers as a 2nd team JC All-American
"It was horrible. There was a part of me that wanted to redshirt, but I thought that I could still help the team at a lot less than 100 percent. I just couldn't do the things they brought me in here to do. But it's taught me a lot about patience and determination."
The WWJD wristband he wears at practice and warm-ups is a constant reminder of the source of his inspiration and determination. His faith was strengthened during his time at JC when he needed someone in the cold winters where all he had was his game and studies.
"It was the best thing for me because I learned a lot about myself," said Patrick. "And, the environment helped me buckle down and get focused as a student and athlete. I noticed guys like Iverson and Derek Fisher with the same wristband and asked about it. I was steered to the Christian bookstore and have gone with that look ever since. It's a constant reminder for me and the very least I could do."
There is one final chapter to Patrick's career and he has upped the ante to those who just aspire to make the NCAA tournament. His goal is to get there and win a couple games, not content just go one and out. Patrick is one of a half dozen Bronco perimeter players capable of going for 20 on a given night. Divvying up minutes is a nice problem for Davey to have with this group since it is something that hasn't always been the case the last couple years because of injuries.
"This team has a lot of weapons and if we put it together, we can make some noise," said Patrick. "There is no doubt Gonzaga is the team to beat and they deserve to be after what they've done up there the last few years. But hosting the tournament for us is huge with the crowd support and an environment where we are all comfortable. "
Making "The Dance" is the dream of every college basketball player and Patrick wakes up to those images from his bed at Santa Clara. He's thankful that his challenges come on the court and the classroom in the South Bay.