March 30, 2013 11:31:30 PM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
When the typical student moves to college, it takes two or three carloads to transport the clothes and furnishings.
Columbus High School senior Kiki Patterson won't have to do that much packing. She will be able to hurry home at a moment's notice.
After a standout prep career, the consensus All-State product is eager to start her career this fall at Mississippi State University.
While waiting for that journey to start, the postseason accolades from her senior year in high school continue to roll in for Patterson, who is The Dispatch's Girls Basketball Player of Year. She also earned the honor last season. This season, she shares the award with Starkville Academy's Maggie Proffitt, Anna Lea Little, Tiffany Huddleston, Sallie Kate Richardson, and Nora Kathryn Carroll.
"It really is hard to believe my high school career is over," Patterson said. "I have played basketball since I was 3 years old, so really I have learned so much. In a lot of ways, I feel like a veteran and I feel like I have seen it all. In other ways, my basketball career is just beginning, so I am really excited about what is next."
Patterson excited the Columbus High faithful the past three seasons, and helped the Lady Falcons rank among the state's elite in Class 6A. This past season, Columbus finished 18-7. The Lady Falcons lost for a third straight season in north state semifinal round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association playoffs, falling one game shy of the state championship tournament in Jackson.
"We had a good season," Patterson said. "Actually, we had a great season. It didn't end the way we wanted it to. We did the best we could. When you get to the last four teams (in the North State playoffs), you have to play perfect. Each year, we didn't do that. We were close. We had our chances. We just had some special teams. We just couldn't quite find a way to get that one more win that we had to have."
Patterson played a key role in pushing Columbus to the doorstep. Through graduations and transfers, Patterson had to shoulder a bigger load on a less-experienced squad in her senior season.
"Kiki really set the standard around here," Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston said. "(Going into next season), we lost a lot of good players out of this senior class. The younger players saw this team's success. They know how hard they have to work if they want to achieve their goals of playing senior college ball, just like Kiki did. That is quite an inspiration when you see that example on a daily basis."
While Patterson averaged slightly better than 20 points throughout her high school career, the 5-foot-8 guard showcased her growth and maturity by creating more offense for her teammates and becoming a more complete player.
"Each year, I grew and found something to work on," Patterson said. "You always have to work at becoming a better player. It seems like when I felt like I was pretty good at one area then I would find something else to work on. From one year to the next, I always came back and tried to work harder.
"Each year, I felt like my confidence grew a little bit. When you have confidence and you feel like you have been in a similar situation before, the pressure does not get to you."
As more teams focused on stopping Patterson, it became increasingly important to involve others.
"Each night, I was getting a double-team, and sometimes a triple-team," Patterson said. "It took me some time to realize it was just important to my team if I got 15 assists, as opposed to 15 points. Each night it is not mean for me to get 40 points.
"A 15-10 (points-assists) night is good if it helps my team win. My mind-set became everything I could do to make my team better. If I learned to do other things, it would go hand in hand with my team doing better. If the stats aren't there one night, don't get rattled, just get ready for the next game."
Not only did Hairston appreciate the strides Patterson made on the court, she also was proud of the leadership role she assumed off the court.
"Kiki was really a leader at school," Hairston said. "As a star athlete, everybody knows your name. The image she represents is important for our program throughout the school. Kiki set the bar very high, which is a good thing. We want that bar set very high. Each year, we don't want to lower our standards."
With her athletic career really taking off, Patterson embraced the opportunity to make a difference in the classroom.
"Coach spent a lot of time with me during the offseason talking about being a leader on and off the court," Patterson said. "She told me the best way to carry a team is to do it by setting an example. When you a senior and you are the team's leading scorer, it just comes with it. I think the hardest part is being a leader off the court.
"You have to live your life under a microscope because all of the teachers and the other students know who you are and they are watching what you are doing. The biggest question mark going into my senior season was where I was going to sign (to play college basketball). I got asked every day. I think once I made that decision, everything real smooth for the rest of the season."
Patterson was one of the original signees for coach Vic Schaefer and the new staff at MSU. Patterson signed with the Bulldogs in November, about nine months after Schaefer was named head coach.
"We are excited to be getting the best player in the state of Mississippi," said Schaefer, at the time of the signing. "We saw Kiki play (in November) and watching her competitiveness and will to win was exciting. She competes to the very last play, and she has a presence on the floor that is required (at) point guard."
While Schaefer and his staff saw Patterson play several times this season, Patterson also kept tabs on her future teammates.
"They are already doing some great things there (at MSU)," Patterson said. "The recruiting class is ranked. The pieces are in place. I know they are thinking we are going to come in there and be like the Fab Five (1991 University of Michigan men's basketball recruitment class). They are expecting some big things from us right away.
"Playing in the (Southeastern Conference) is the dream for most kids. I am very excited about the fact that one day I can tell my kids, nieces and nephews that I played in that league. It is definitely special. It is going to be different. What this shows is that hard work does indeed pay off. I am humbled to be playing in such a great league and having the opportunity to do it before friends and family."
Friends and family can be thankful, too. While Patterson's career has been long, the drive back home won't be.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter