Senior stars a key to SEC hoops improvement


Patrick Patterson is averaging 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds on a Kentucky team off to its best start (17-0) since 1965-66.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.

Louisiana State senior forward Tasmin Mitchell said he took a cautious approach when evaluating his NBA Draft prospects.

"You've got to be careful," Mitchell said. "I didn't want to be one of those kids looking back saying, 'Oh man, I should have stayed.' I love college."

Mitchell was part of a surprising number of Southeastern Conference players who decided to return to school rather than test the NBA Draft waters last spring. Kentucky power forward Patrick Patterson, Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy and South Carolina point guard Devan Downey also decided to return to campus despite being projected as possible first-round draft picks.

The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Mitchell said he was told by the NBA Draft advisory committee last spring that he wouldn't be taken until the middle of the second round.

"I felt like I could better myself in the draft as a player, as a perimeter player," Mitchell said. "I talked with my family and my coaches about it. I felt like I made the right decision."

Patterson said he was told he could go between the 12th-18th pick of the first round if he decided to leave UK. But the 6-9 Patterson had a couple of reasons to return. One was the chance to play for Kentucky coach John Calipari in the dribble-drive offense. The second was to earn his degree. Patterson is on track to graduate in three years with a degree in communications.

"When a look at my teammates and the team that we have, the coaching staff we have, I want to try to win a national championship at Kentucky, get to an NCAA Tournament," Patterson said. "Plus, I have the opportunity to get my degree in three years."

The 6-11 Ogilvy said he spent about a week last spring contemplating the NBA Draft but had his mind set on returning for his junior season. An exchange student from Australia, Ogilvy spent the spring and summer on the Vanderbilt campus working on his game.

"I think people are definitely getting better advice," Ogilvy said. "The advice I got was I need another year to work on my body and get a bit stronger."

So far, the decision has worked out well for all three players. Mitchell is fourth in the SEC in scoring (17.1 ppg) and second in rebounding (9.5 rpg). Patterson is averaging 16.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg on a Kentucky team off to its best start (17-0) since 1965-66. Ogilvy, coming off a 24-point performance against Florida last Saturday, is scoring 13.3 ppg.

The decision didn't work out as well for Tennessee senior forward Tyler Smith, who came back after putting his name in the NBA Draft last spring. Smith was dismissed from the Vols last week after being arrested on drugs and weapons charges.

With a number of marquee players back, there is hope the SEC will improve after just three teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament last season.

"All of a sudden, you've got some sophomores and juniors to go along with those premier guys who have experience," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Now those clubs have a chance to be a lot better."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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