Patrick continues upward trajectory
David Patrick's star continues to rise and the Bermudian-born basketball coach now gets to shine ever more brightly in the most celebrated conference in American college sport.
Patrick, who left Bermuda for Australia aged 10, has just signed on with the University of Arkansas as an associate head coach in a move that continues the 44-year-old on an upwardly mobile career path.
This comes after two seasons at the University of California, Riverside, where he turned around a losing programme with the best two-year start by a head coach in school history.
The Highlanders were a woeful 10-23 in Patrick's first year in charge and bounced back to 17-15 when the global pandemic took hold in March.
It was enough for Eric Musselman, the second-year Razorbacks head coach, former NBA head coach and a longtime Patrick family friend, not to let such a talent fall into the hands of a rival in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.
“It was a difficult decision to leave my head coaching post at the University of California, Riverside,” Patrick told The Royal Gazette this week. “I will for ever be thankful to athletic director Tamica Smith Jones, and chancellor Kim Wilcox for the opportunity they gave me.”
He added: “We made major improvements on the basketball court and in the classroom in my two years there — winning the most games in the history of the programme. I will always cherish the memories I made with my student-athletes and players.”
The move reunites Patrick with Musselman after the pair worked together at Louisiana State University for a season in 2014-15, the Bermudian referring to the former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings head coach as someone whose “coaching acumen and résumé are unmatched in college basketball”.
He added: “The move to the University of Arkansas, which is one of the premier athletic departments in the country, is a dream come true. The rich basketball tradition was something I could not walk away from.
“Coach Eric Musselman is a longtime family friend and we have a unique bond as competitors and coaches. It made my choice to come to Arkansas even easier.”
Their other connection is NBA All-Star Ben Simmons, whose recruitment to LSU in 2015 was largely the work of Patrick, his godfather. One year later, the 6ft 10in guard-forward was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Patrick, who is well respected as an X's and O's coach, has ambitions of matching wits in the NBA one day, but for now his focus is firmly set on the SEC.
“Yes sir,” he said when asked of joining professional ranks. “Ultimately, I would dream to be a head coach in a major conference or in the NBA one day. This definitely, I think, allows me to do that.”
He added: “The University of Arkansas gives me a chance to continue to grow as a coach in the SEC, which is the premier basketball conference in country. The commitment to success by the Arkansas athletic department has been amazing to see in my short time as a Razorback.”
After stints as an assistant at Nicholls State, St Mary's, LSU and Texas Christian University before taking his first head coaching post at UC Riverside, Patrick gained a favourable reputation that he has only burnished.
Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting director, waxed lyrical about the Bermudian in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette recently. “I think he brings the whole package as an associate head coach,” Biancardi said.
“He's experienced and he has a good demeanour and has a great work ethic.”
Biancardi concludes that Patrick and Musselman make a natural fit to take Arkansas to the next level after going 20-12 last season but 7-11 in conference play.
“I call them chameleons,” he said. “They can be good wherever they go. Some people have to maybe be from a certain part of the country to be good at their job. When you look at Muss, that's not the case. When you look at David Patrick, that's not the case. Those guys can go wherever they are and win.
“They make things better than what they found. That to me is impressive.”
The next impression Patrick has to make is on the Arkansas players, but he cannot do so in earnest until the virus that has slam-dunked 2020 has dissipated.
“It's actually slowed down our ability to be on the floor with our student-athletes, as the virus is so fluid and changes daily,” Patrick said of negotiating the scourge of Covid-19. “The hope is to get on the floor on July 20, which could also change.”
How soon the season starts because of the lingering threat of the novel coronavirus and whether the Bud Walton Arena will be open to fans, is open to question.
But Patrick is settled in his new surroundings, is up for the challenge and has not missed a trick in recognising a line of Bermudian magic that has left a mark in his vicinity since former world champion triple jumper Brian Wellman was hopping, skipping and jumping all over Razorback country in the early 1990s.
Wellman, who turns 53 in September and was inches away from an Olympic medal at the Barcelona Games in 1992, would not feel too aggrieved that he did not come readily to “young” David's mind as a Razorback legend.
Put that down to all those years spent in Melbourne, Australia, before relocating to the US to play basketball on a high-school scholarship.
But Patrick seized on the modern-day link in Devwah Whaley, the running back who was signed as a free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League.
“Who would think two Bermudians, in Devwah Whaley and now myself, would end up in Fayetteville?”