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Blue Streak

Feb. 02, 2009
Feb. 02, 2009

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Feb. 2, 2009

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Blue Streak

A history-making perimeter threat and a low-post power player have Kentucky back in the national title hunt

KENTUCKY'S JODIE MEEKS, a junior guard, and Patrick Patterson, a sophomore forward, thought it would be a good idea if they roomed together this year, "so as team leaders we could get to know each other better," says Meeks. What have they learned so far? "He's a laid-back guy just like I am," says Meeks, "and we both like to sleep a lot."

This is an article from the Feb. 2, 2009 issue

Fortunately for Wildcats fans the two are far more exciting on the court than off it. Thanks in large part to their combined 43.8 points a game (they're the highest-scoring pair of teammates in the nation), the Wildcats were 16--4 at week's end, after an 0--2 start to the season, and were back in the national rankings (at No. 24) for the first time since early 2007. Moreover, with a 5--0 conference record, they appear to be the class of an otherwise underwhelming SEC.

Meeks in particular has been a revelation. After averaging 8.7 points his freshman season, he missed all but 11 games last year because of injuries, including a sports hernia that wasn't diagnosed until the season was over. Now healthy after off-season surgery, he was the third-leading scorer in the nation at week's end, averaging 26.1 points a game. On Jan. 13 he broke Dan Issel's 39-year-old school scoring record with 54 points in a 90--72 rout at Tennessee.

"Last year was frustrating because I had never had an injury before," says the 6'4", 208-pound Meeks, who has injected himself into the national player of the year discussion. "But sitting out made me smarter and hungrier. When I got back, I was ready to work hard and play hard."

Meeks gives a lot of credit for his prolific scoring to Patterson. "If it wasn't for Patrick being the threat he is down low, I wouldn't be getting all those open shots," he says.

Patterson, a 6'9", 235-pound McDonald's All-American from Huntington, W.Va., who was averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, can match Meeks in humility: He draws a lot of attention from defenders but doesn't expect it from fans or the media. "Nothing I do is flashy, spectacular or entertaining," he says. "I'm just a low-post type of guy, doing the dirty work."

A fan of Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, Patterson is old school to the core, from his no-nonsense game and the Afro he grew over the summer (since trimmed), to his preference for Motown and R&B music. He says his throwback style comes from his dad, Buster, a retired Navy shopkeeper, whose strict discipline at home included a 10:30 nightly curfew. "I didn't like being on such a short leash growing up, but it made me the man I am today," says Patterson, who missed the final five games of last season with a stress fracture in his left ankle.

Meeks's dad, Orestes, a former All-America long jumper at Middle Tennessee State, has been an equally powerful force in his son's life. A sales executive at IBM, Orestes also coached Jodie's youth traveling team. He passed on certain genetic gifts to his son—his senior year at Norcross (Ga.) High, Jodie tried the long jump and cleared more than 22 feet on his first leap, in basketball shoes—but Orestes also instilled a respect for hard work. "I've never seen a guy spend so much energy in practice, every day," Wildcats coach Billy Gillispie says of his star guard. "Every single cut he makes is [at] 100 percent game speed."

Gillispie doesn't like to talk about a team's potential, but he admits that Meeks and Patterson have qualities that don't come along very often. That could mean good things for the Wildcats come March. "They play as hard as anyone I've seen, and they're selfless," says Gillispie. "If someone else has a big night, they are the first ones to make those other guys feel good about it. When your two best players are like that, you have a chance to be something special."

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PHOTOGREG NELSON (MEEKS)BUDDY SYSTEM Meeks and Patterson (54) have combined to average 43.8 points a game.PHOTOED REINKE/AP[See caption above]