May 6, 2014 10:47:14 PM
Kiki Patterson never lost her love for the game of basketball.
The former Columbus High School standout discovered that in the last year and a half after a host of personal and family issues caused her to lose focus and, ultimately, lose her spot on the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
After years of playing high school and Amateur Athletic Union basketball and having the sport be a focal part of her life, Patterson also learned something else about herself: She could live without basketball.
Last month, Patterson decided the time was right to play basketball again. East Mississippi Community College women's basketball coach Sharon Thompson was more than happy to give Patterson a chance to return to the sport she loves.
On April 18, Patterson signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at EMCC in Scooba. On Tuesday, Patterson and her mother, Shuvarn Patterson, talked for more than 45 minutes about the decision to come back to basketball.
"It wasn't a tough decision," said Patterson, a 5-foot-9 point guard who was a two-time Dandy Dozen selection by The Clarion-Ledger. The Dandy Dozen recognizes the state's top players. "I felt at the time (she left the MSU team) I had a lot going on and a lot of personal issues and family issues and that I couldn't focus like I wanted to.
Now I am at a point where everything has mellowed out and I am able to focus on things that I am able to focus on."
Patterson declined to elaborate about the family issues she faced in the past 18 months since she signed a NLI with MSU in November 2012.
At the time, Patterson was part of a nationally ranked recruiting class with Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Breanna Richardson, and Chinwe Okorie. She was expected to step in as the top senior point guard in the state of Mississippi, according to FILA, and compete for playing time in the backcourt. But Patterson never played for the Bulldogs. She said Tuesday she doesn't feel bad she didn't play for coach Vic Schafer at MSU.
"Things happen," said Patterson, who averaged 20.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, three steals, and three assists as a senior for coach Yvonne Hairston at Columbus High. "Everything happens for a reason, so I am not going to hold my head down about it. Stuff happens for a reason.
"That is the only thing I can tell you."
Patterson said she has grown stronger and has gained wisdom in the past year and a half. She said she has remained enrolled at MSU and is in position to complete her second semester in good academic standing and transfer to EMCC. She said she has had a great experience at MSU and that she still has love for Schaefer and his coaching staff.
"There is no beef and it is not a sensitive situation like a lot of people think it is," Patterson said. "I had a lot of things going on on my end that I was not able to perform like I was supposed to perform."
Schaefer, who followed up his first recruiting class with a top-20 class that will join the program for the 2014-15 season, said he is "excited and happy" for Patterson.
"Hopefully, she will be able to focus and enjoy the game she has played all her life," Schaefer said. "She is ultra talented. EMCC is getting an awfully good player. We wish her the very best and will be rooting for her."
At the time Patterson signed with MSU, Schaefer expressed similar excitement that the Bulldogs were getting "the best player in the state of Mississippi." He also praised Patterson's competitiveness and will to win, and said she had the "presence on the floor" that a point guard needs.
But Patterson said the personal and family issues in her life made it difficult for her to be the player Schaefer saw and recruited. She said she was so worried about what people were going to say and what people were going to think that she lost focus on her priorities.
She said the "family issues," as she called them, had been going on for a long time and weren't things that "popped up out of the blue" and knocked her off course.
"People tried to make it seem like something popped out of the blue and I didn't want to play at Mississippi State or it was too hard," Patterson said. "When your mind is not right your body can't perform right. I had too much on my plate to deal with at one time. I had to deal with my family issues No. 1. Now I am going to get back to what I am supposed to do."
Thompson hopes she can play a role in helping Patterson get her basketball career back on track while keeping her on track academically. She said she communicated with Kiki and Shuvarn Patterson for a little more than a month after she learned Kiki was interested in returning to basketball. She said her goal was not to pressure or to rush Kiki into a decision, but she assured her and her mother that she was "very, very interested" in having her come to Scooba.
"She told me she was ready," said Thompson, who played basketball at
MSU. "Her mom had been telling me she wants to come play for me. I love how her mom handled it. Kiki is a young adult and I wanted her to make a commitment to me. She said she was ready and wanted to come play for me."
Thompson said she isn't worried about Patterson's physical fitness or her basketball skills after a year and a half away from the game. She said Patterson will be "good to go" to transfer from MSU to EMCC and that her concern is to make sure she is comfortable in the transition.
"I know the talent and the skill is there and that it will be rusty, but we can fine-tune that," Thompson said. "The only part of it I am worried about is her well being and her knowing she is like at home here."
Patterson said she talked with a lot of people about EMCC and feels it will be the best fit for her at this point in her life. She also has come to understand a little better how her basketball abilities have touched the lives of so many people. She said she didn't appreciate that a year and a half ago, or even earlier in her career. She hopes her return to basketball can make other people happy, but she also believes the timing is right for the sport to be a key part of her life again.
"It took me time to get adjusted (to life without basketball)," Patterson said. "For a period of time, I didn't miss playing basketball because for so many years I had played around the clock.
For so many years I thought I can't manage to live and not play basketball, but I learned I have and I could (live without basketball). I spent most of my time with my family because when I was playing basketball I didn't have too much time to spend with my family like I really wanted to. I felt like I had a break long enough and it was time for me to get back to it."
Patterson said her final game at Columbus High was the last organized game she played in. She said she played in pickup games at MSU and tried to work out and stay in shape. She said she has been working out and lifting weights in an attempt to get back to the fitness level she was at when she was playing regularly. She believes it will be a challenge to get her game back to where it was, but she is confident her talent remains and will be able to shine now that she is more focused and more mature.
Shuvarn Patterson said she is equally excited about Kiki's decision.
She said she tried to stay supportive of her daughter through the past year and a half and to give her the time and space to figure out the next step in her life. She said she hopes Kiki will continue her basketball career so she has a chance to get another opportunity to play Division I basketball. But she also said she isn't going to pressure her daughter or contemplate the future because she knows Kiki doesn't want to think that far in the future.
"The circumstances have changed for her," Shuvarn Patterson said. "She is more focused on what she wants to do. Mostly now she knows exactly what she wants to do and where she wants to go."
True to her words about not thinking about the future, Kiki Patterson said she plans to enjoy her time at EMCC and will "cross that bridge" if and/or when it comes time to make a decision about the next step in her life. For now, Patterson is confident she has made the right decision that will help put her back on a path to recapture her love for the game of basketball.
"My decision, I made it for myself," Patterson said. "I didn't have people in my ear saying, 'OK, you're a Division I player.' I did not have all of that in my ear. It was a decision I made my myself for myself, and I am confident the outcome is going to be great. "
"I feel I have a responsibility not only to myself and my family, but I didn't realize how many people I touched playing basketball off my talent. If I do that for other people, that makes me happy. I didn't realize putting a ball in a hoop would do that for people. Now it is like I can make other people happy by playing basketball and that makes me happy in return."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.