LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson returned from his doctor visit Friday wearing a cast on his left foot, teammate Joe Crawford thought it was a prank.
“Stop playing,” Crawford told him. “It isn’t April Fool’s yet.”
But Patterson wasn’t joking. The tough reality for Kentucky fans is that the star big man — one of two Southeastern Conference freshmen averaging more than 16 points — will miss the rest of the season because of a stress fracture in his left ankle.
Patterson, who was wearing the cast at a news conference Friday night, said he had been experiencing some discomfort in his foot since Tuesday and decided to go in for precautionary X-rays. When they revealed the bad news, Patterson said he cried.
“I thought I was letting down my teammates,” Patterson said. “I really wanted to be out there, just being an additional threat.”
The injury is a huge blow for the Wildcats, who face No. 1 Tennessee on Sunday in a battle for first place in the SEC East.
Patterson, a highly recruited 6-foot-8 forward out of West Virginia, has taken the vast majority of Kentucky’s shots in the paint and leads the Wildcats with 8 rebounds a game.
Without him, the Wildcats will have to rely more heavily on sophomore Perry Stevenson, freshman A.J. Stewart and seldom-used junior Jared Carter.
“It’s an obstacle,” Stevenson said. “We’ve been having them all season. All we can do is take it in stride.”
Coach Billy Gillispie said one player won’t be able to fill Patterson’s shoes.
“Tough day for us,” Gillispie said. “He means so much to our team as a player and person. I have not been around a freshman that has been asked to do more and has done more for a team since day one.”
Kentucky (16-10, 10-3) has three games remaining before the SEC tournament and may need multiple victories to sneak into the NCAA tournament field as an at-large team.
Patterson led Huntington High to three straight West Virginia state championships, the last one alongside fellow phenom O.J. Mayo, who currently plays for Southern Cal.
The three-time SEC freshman of the week was just 54 points away from breaking Rex Chapman’s school record for a freshman of 464.
Patterson said his doctor told him that playing through pain could jeopardize his ability to play next season. By resting the injury now, he is expected to recover in eight weeks.
As for leaving school for the NBA — another subject of concern for Wildcats fans — Patterson said he already decided he wasn’t ready yet, so the injury didn’t change his thought process.
Ankle injuries plagued him throughout high school, albeit never to this extent, Patterson said. Earlier this season, he missed a game against Houston because of a sprain to his right ankle.
Patterson said he’ll make the trip to Knoxville for Sunday’s game against the Volunteers to provide an emotional lift.
“I’ll be on the sidelines cheering my team on, doing whatever I can to help,” he said.
The injury means Kentucky must finish the season without the two huge recruits that Gillispie persuaded to join the Wildcats. Freshman guard Alex Legion left the team earlier this season.
It’s the latest in a series of injuries for Kentucky, which has also had to play several games without guards Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper.
“I just look at it as a movie kind of thing,” senior guard Ramel Bradley said of all the team’s misfortune. “In a movie, it always starts off bad and things get good at the end.”
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