Patrick making himself at home at UCR
The first thing you notice walking into David Patrick’s gym is the sound. Not the squeaking of rubber soles on hardwood or the metronomic thudding of bouncing balls, but voices. Lots of them.
“The loudest gyms are usually the best teams,” Patrick says, which is why a Tuesday afternoon session in late July is a symphony of chatter, nearly all of it rooted in enthusiasm and encouragement — some from the coaches, but much more from the players themselves.
Let’s go, boys! Way to shoot, way to rebound! You’ve got it! Good job; you finished!
What’s unusual about the scene is that the conductor, Patrick, who was hired as UC Riverside’s head men’s basketball coach in March, does not fit the conventional, bombastic mould of “a no BS guy,” as senior guard DJ Sylvester calls him.
Aside from one loud exhortation at his players to rebound — a must in Patrick’s book — he doesn’t raise his voice past the volume of someone repeating his order at the drive-through window.
Hardly anything about him is conventional. At 42, his path to UCR is among the most unique in college basketball, one that has winded from tropical paradise to swamplands, from small-school college ball to NBA glitz, from a no-name hooping on small blacktops in Melbourne to the star recruiter credited with signing Ben Simmons, now a point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers and the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.
Which makes Patrick well-suited for one of the singular challenges in college basketball. The Highlanders are a combined 154—288 since joining the Big West in 2001, with only a single winning season to their name.
Most coaches would be daunted or deterred, but not Patrick. He has a plan to take the Highlanders places they’ve never gone, one that will carry him to the literal other side of the globe in search of players who believe in his vision. To win on the court, he first must win the living room.
That’s how he got the job in the first place. All Patrick has ever done is successfully recruit top-drawer talent, which is why those who know him expect great things from UCR in the future.
“I am absolutely certain he’ll get good players,” says Saint Mary’s College of California head coach Randy Bennett, who gave Patrick his big break. “He’s as good as there is at that.”
According to Bennett, Patrick’s success can be boiled down to three things: personality, work ethic, and relationships.
Every one of them is important, both to understand how a master closer goes about his work, but also as a case study for UCR’s future under its new head coach. Because by studying David Patrick, the recruiter, you’ll learn everything you need to know about David Patrick, the man.
Patrick is pleasant. Not in a canned, high-energy way — remember the scene at practice — or in a solicitous way, as though his kindness were merely pretext, but in the most basic definition of the word.
People “may not even understand why they like him,” says JP Piper, Patrick’s high-school coach at The Chapel Trafton School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“A guy who gets along with everybody,” adds Stadium basketball analyst Jeff Goodman, taking care to elongate the last word. “You never hear a bad word spoken about David Patrick. Never. In that industry, usually everyone is backstabbing, talking negatively about everybody.”
Patrick’s personality — the essence of what makes him the person and coach he is — has been sculpted by decades of mentors and experiences throughout his itinerant journey.
He was born in Bermuda, but grew up in Melbourne at a time when basketball in Australia was still in its infancy. What little foothold the game did have on the island was through VCR tapes and Street & Smith’s magazine. Then there was Patrick’s hero, Andrew Gaze, Australia’s first great basketball export, who played one season at Seton Hall in 1988—89 and went on to compete in five Olympics for the Australian national team.
Patrick vowed to follow in Gaze’s footsteps. As a teenager, he emerged as one of the country’s brightest talents, even touring Louisiana with Australia’s youth national team as a high school junior for a series of exhibition games. The following year, he transferred sight unseen to Chapel Trafton, in hopes of playing his way into a college scholarship the way Gaze had for Seton Hall years earlier.
Patrick’s coach there was Piper, who had experienced his skills first-hand during the barnstorming tour one year earlier.
“He walked in the gym, and we were like, ‘That’s the point guard on that team that mauled us!’” Piper recalled.
Patrick became district MVP as a senior, earning scholarship offers from schools throughout the country. He picked Syracuse, and watched from the bench as the Orange made the Final Four during his freshman year.
A larger role beckoned, but he was cold and alone, 1,400 miles from Baton Rouge — the closest thing he had to an American home — and 10,000 from his real home in Melbourne. So he packed his bags and transferred to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“I always say if I could do it again, I would have stayed,” Patrick says. “But if I stayed, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.”
He graduated in 2000 and played six years overseas, first in Australia, then stints in England and Spain. He never had designs on coaching, at least not until Piper — now the head coach at Nicholls State — offered him a job in 2005. Patrick took to it quickly, jumping to Saint Mary’s after one year before joining the Houston Rockets in 2010 in a front-office role. Only then, Patrick says, did he realise how much he missed the camaraderie of the locker room.
“I was like, ‘Man, I need to be around a team,’” he says.
He returned to the college game in 2012 as an assistant coach at Louisiana State University. Four years later, he was off to Texas Christian. Now, ahead of his first head coaching job, he has become an amalgamation of the coaches under whom he studied.
He is Piper’s grit and Bennett’s attention to detail. He is charming like his former LSU boss, Johnny Jones, and tough like TCU head coach Jamie Dixon. His teams will push the tempo on offence, like Bennett’s, and pound the defensive glass like Dixon’s. But they also shape him in a more fundamental way.
“All four of them are great family men,” Patrick says, noting that’s what he strives to be with his wife, Cassie, and their two daughters, Bailee and Madison.
Altogether, it’s the profile of a coach who has built a reputation on delivering a singular message to every parent and guardian he meets: “I’m going to take care of your kid and treat them right.” It resonates in every new home he steps into, because of all the places he’s already been.
“I’ve played at the highest level,” Patrick begins. “Worked at the highest level. I’ve transferred; I’ve been [by myself in a] foreign country.
“I’ve been in billionaires’ homes and millionaires’ homes, and I’ve been in the hood. I can kind of put whatever hat on that I need to put on.”
The defining moment of Patrick’s introductory press conference at UCR came about four minutes into his address, upon the mention of his wife and daughters, when he nearly broke down in tears.
“It’s hard for your spouse when you’re away a lot,” he told the crowd, before a long pause and a short apology. “This journey hasn’t been easy.”
If he’s being honest, Patrick doesn’t particularly like recruiting. It’s simple math: Every hour he spends on the road is an hour away from the three people he loves most. “We’re allowed seven times to be in front of a [recruit],” he says. “So if … I’m recruiting ten guys, that’s 70 times I’m gone.”
What he does enjoy, though, is the challenge. “That’s kind of a competitive part for me,” he says. “How do I get this young man and his family to choose me over this other school, without saying anything negative about the other school?”
The answer, far more often than not, is hustle. It’s all Patrick knows, both in and out of basketball. “I’ve never been a blue blood, so to speak,” he says, referring to the likes of Duke or Kansas. “To get you to come to me over a blue blood, I’ve got to outwork them.”
It begins with the phone calls. All coaches are wired to their phones, but Patrick’s may as well be surgically implanted. His recruiting board is endless, because Patrick refuses to let himself be short a contingency plan whenever he needs on.
“[He] puts a lot of lines out in the sea,” Dixon says. Often, that means placing international calls to Australia, Patrick’s most fertile recruiting ground. According to Goodman, nobody recruits the country better, and the proof is in the trio of NBA players Patrick signed: Simmons to LSU, San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills, and Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova to Saint Mary’s.
Simmons is his godson, and the son of one of Patrick’s earliest mentors in Australia. Mills was the team ball boy during his one season of professional basketball in Australia and, according to Patrick, “The best I’ve ever seen as a young kid.” Dellavedova was a surprise even to him, a sleeper with only a handful of Division I offers who willed his way to prominence. “He just worked,” Patrick says.
Patrick has already imported one Aussie onto this year’s Highlander roster, as well as a New Zealander, and is constantly seeking out the next wave.
“I don’t know if the guy sleeps,” Bennett says with a laugh. “He’ll be up working out at 6:30 in the morning, and he’ll be calling kids on the phone, or his phone will ring, and he’ll pick up talking to someone in Australia at 1:30 in the morning.”
Then there are those 70 visits. Merely showing up isn’t enough. He wants to get there first, every time. “If we can go in-home at midnight … I’m going to be there at 12:01,” Patrick says.
Yet there is a method to his madness. He gets there first, so he can tell each player he’s a priority, and mean it. And while he casts plenty of lines, he’s far more measured about which fish he tries to reel in: He’d rather invest his time learning everything about a few players than a few things about every player.
“This may be cocky,” he says. “[But] if there are three kids, I’m going to get one of the three.” Then his voice raises a lilt. “I don’t know which one,” he adds with a smile, “But I’m getting one of them.”
If there is one differentiating factor between the ace closers and the also-rans, and head coaches-in-waiting from lifelong assistants? — ?it’s who you know.
“It’s all about relationships,” Goodman says.
This might be Patrick’s greatest gift of all, a melting pot of those ineffable personal traits and that tireless motor. He draws people in, and keeps them close.
“His network is massive,” Piper says. “I’d say, ‘David, it’s exhausting … I don’t know how you juggle this many balls.”
He does this with two goals in mind. First, it’s how you sign players. Patrick takes as many calls as he makes, under the auspice that whether it’s now or some far-off point in the future, every relationship could someday pay dividends.
“[He’s] always laying the groundwork,” Piper says. “This youth league coach in Australia may have a Ben Simmons one day … David can go back to those people, and there’s a relationship in place that really just gets his foot in the door. But once his foot is in the door, he’s pretty amazing.”
The second reason is more personal. No matter Patrick’s success, there’s a part of him that’s still the kid from Melbourne hoping someone will give him a shot.
Now, he wants to be that person for a new generation of players. “If I can help the next guy, especially from [Australia], I want to be able to help all of them,” he says.
With only 13 scholarships to award each year, he can only do so much first-hand. Those Patrick can’t help directly are connected to junior colleges or other four-year schools, whether or not it inconveniences him personally.
“He would help a kid go to our competitor if we couldn’t take the kid,” Piper says.
A little over an hour after that practice ends, Patrick hops on the phone with an Australian coach. It’s an uneven exchange — Patrick giving more than he gets — which is no trouble. He always has time, especially for people who mean something to him.
“I feel like I still work for [Randy Bennett],” he says with a laugh. “If he calls, I don’t care where I am or what time it is, I pick up.”
THE QUIET GUY
Sitting behind his desk, in an office with mostly bare walls, Patrick knows there’s still so much to be done. Earlier that afternoon, he ran his players through a bevy of shooting drills, laying the groundwork for an offence that he expects to be fast, frenetic, and trigger-happy. It was hardly perfect, but it’s progress. “We couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when I got here,” he says, drily.
But he didn’t hesitate to make them repeat one key drill — a five-minute gauntlet in which the team needs to hit 70 three-pointers, collectively, before time runs out.
They failed on both attempts. If he was unhappy, his tone certainly didn’t relay it. It stayed rock steady, and it’s a safe bet to stay that way almost every time his players see him. The head coach gets his point across in other ways.
“I always tell those guys, if you’re ever in a fight, don’t worry about the guy that’s yelling and cursing and saying what he’s going to do,” Patrick says. “Worry about the guy that’s quiet on the side.”
A thin smile reappears on his face, and UCR’s new coach doesn’t need to say any more. The rest of the conference will find out soon enough what the Highlanders already know: David Patrick is the quiet guy.
This story first ran in UCR Magazine and was reprinted with the permission of UC Riverside.
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