In the darkest moment, his career at UCLA barely a flicker, Andre Patterson danced.
When his worldly wise father became convinced that his son was a pawn in a campus political struggle, Patterson shrugged, tossed his book bag on his shoulder and went to school.
When well-meaning advisors suggested he find a new basketball team, he ignored them and kept going to class, one day after another, until darkness gave way to light and politics were made irrelevant by indisputable marks on a report card.
The glowing grades were his.
The spring-legged sophomore forward bounced back from serious academic problems to become a tale of triumph in this Bruin season of disappointment. Support the upbeat Patterson received from family, coach and teammates was invaluable, but ultimately his journey had to be taken solo.
It was a lesson he could not learn from a professor’s lecture, a coach’s tirade or a parent’s rant.
For Patterson, it had to be lived.
Despondent over limited playing time as a freshman, he did little schoolwork in the winter and spring quarters and flunked out of UCLA in May. He was deleted from the preseason roster and media guide but regained his eligibility by achieving strong grades in two summer sessions at UCLA and in the fall at Santa Monica College.
He rejoined the Bruins after missing only three games and has become their strongest post player, averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds while leading the team with 64.2% shooting accuracy.
And with UCLA playing at Georgetown today, he is the player least despondent over the 4-14 start because the chance to take the court every day is a joy he no longer takes for granted.
“When you’ve had something for so long and they take it away, you miss it,” he said. “You understand what you had. I had to grow up. I let myself down and I had to pick myself back up.”
He did so by staying buoyant through the entire ordeal. Teresa Patterson walked in one day last summer and found her son dancing in the dining room, seemingly without a care.
“How can you dance at a time like this?” she said.
“Mom, this is something I got myself into,” he replied. “I can get myself out. I can’t stay down.”
His father, Andre Patterson Sr., a former college and CBA player, contributed an even-keeled perspective developed from years of working as a counselor at an Indiana juvenile detention facility. His son lived with him in Fort Wayne from the sixth through 11th grades, and their relationship remains strong.
“Andre is a people person,” Andre Sr. said. “He never met a stranger. But this is something he had to do without help from anyone. Everyone could support him, but he had to get the work done.”
Patterson’s parents sensed last year that he was having difficulties but underestimated the gravity. He had always gotten good grades, from private elementary schools in Los Angeles, to private schools in Fort Wayne, to his senior year at L.A. Washington Prep.
“I had no clue, that’s the scary part,” Teresa said. “It was quite a shock.”
Andre Sr., 40, was just as surprised. He has spent his career helping deeply troubled teenagers, directing a mentor program for juvenile felons. When his son was growing up, he had him observe intense group counseling sessions, providing a glimpse of a world that education and basketball would help him avoid.
But those same experiences taught Andre Sr. that his son would have to confront academic difficulties on his own.
“What I do in my job is take kids from boyhood to manhood, try to straighten them out,” he said. “People learn at a different pace. The light will come on with some before others.
“There are no bad youth, there are just misguided youth. Kids get caught up in blaming others, in saying, ‘I’m not doing this because
“So they must look at themselves and what they can change. That’s how they can be successful. That’s my big thing with my son. I told him, ‘You can be successful, regardless of what someone else thinks about you. But you have to do it and not make excuses.’ ”
Andre Sr., 6 feet 8 and 290 pounds of no nonsense, starred with Walter Berry at Ben Franklin High in Harlem. After a career at New Mexico State, he played under Henry Bibby at Fort Wayne in the CBA.
He never left the gritty industrial city and devoted his life to assisting disadvantaged kids. He has returned to college himself, taking night classes at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, and is scheduled to earn his B.A. this spring.
But helping his son navigate the process of getting readmitted to UCLA was uncharted territory.
Andre Sr. is a staunch supporter of UCLA Coach Steve Lavin, and he suspects that administrators who dislike Lavin made it difficult for his son to get readmitted.
“I’m not trying to point fingers, but something needs to be said,” Andre Sr. said. “Students are being caught in the crossfire.”
He does not dispute, though, that the eligibility requirements and admission procedures spelled out by the college of letters and sciences were followed. Although Patterson certainly was given no special treatment, he was not held to a higher standard than any other student.
After flunking out in May, it was determined he needed four Bs or better in summer school to be readmitted for the fall quarter. He earned B-minuses in all four classes and was denied admission. He attended Santa Monica College in the fall, got the grades he needed and returned to UCLA for the winter quarter.
“He’s worked hard and fulfilled his conditions; that’s great,” said Betsy Stephenson, the UCLA associate athletic director who met with Patterson and his father in May.
“The information [that he was ineligible] was not easy to deliver. I was there to make sure there is clarity on everyone’s part. He was no different than any other student-athlete who goes through the process. This was difficult for Andre and we felt for him. But I had to convey accurate information.”
For his part, Patterson was oblivious to the political undercurrent his father perceived.
“If I had said they were making it hard for me, I would have used it as an excuse,” he said. “Whatever they told me I had to do to get back in, I was going to do. Even after they wouldn’t let me in when I got the B-minuses, I was like, ‘Whatever. It’s still not going to stop me.’ ”
Lavin sees in Patterson a kindred spirit, another human whack-a-mole, someone with a perpetually sunny disposition unfazed in the face of hardship, and went to bat for him with administrators.
Other schools with more relaxed academic standards discreetly recruited Patterson last summer, and although Lavin offered to help find another suitable program, he made it clear he wanted Patterson to stay.
“UCLA was Andre’s dream for a long time,” Lavin said. “He wasn’t going to give it up easily. It was obvious that staying here was very important to him.”
Patterson lived with his mother in Los Angeles last summer and fall, then moved back to a campus dormitory after becoming eligible. But instead of living with teammates as he did last year, he was assigned a random roommate he had never met.
The better to stay focused on school.
“It’s easier when I’m by myself,” he said. “I got my priorities straight and I’m finally doing what I came here to do. You go to class, work out and play basketball. All the other stuff just subtracts from what’s important.”