Transfer Pattillo embracing big expectations for senior season

Senior forward Juan Pattillo drives down the lane against Campbellsville during Sunday’s exhibition game in Diddle Arena. Pattillo scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds in his WKU debut. The Toppers won 80-57.

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Ken McDonald said he’s learned his lesson about over hyping players and teams.

But when talking about senior forward Juan Pattillo’s potential at WKU’s media day last week, McDonald started throwing around some big-time adjectives.

“I don’t know if I’ve been around a guy with the combination of speed, strength and athleticism that he possesses,” McDonald said. “He could be the best defender — and I’m not exaggerating — he could be the best defender in the country.”

That’s big praise for the big man who has yet to play a regular-season game for WKU.

Pattillo transferred to WKU from Oklahoma in 2009 after being dismissed from the Sooners for a violation of team rules.

He averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds for Oklahoma as a junior and averaged 14.7 points per game in two seasons at the College of Southern Idaho before that.

Needless to say, expectations for Pattillo around Bowling Green are high. They were raised even more by his 17 points and 10 rebounds in an exhibition game against Campbellsville last Sunday.

It was an impressive debut, but it’s one Pattillo said he can build on.

“I consider myself a defender, so it doesn’t matter if I’m on the wing or in the post,” he said. “It’s been a while, so it’s going to take me a minute to get back in a rhythm.”

Pattillo sat out last season after transferring, but he said traveling and practicing with WKU gave him a good sense of what the Sun Belt Conference is like.

It also gave the other Toppers a chance to see what he can do.

“He’s going to be a real defensive force for us,” senior forward Sergio Kerusch said. “I could really see Juan guarding the best player on the other team, from point guard to center.”

Kerusch compared Pattillo’s shot-blocking ability to that of former Topper Jeremy Evans, who now plays for the Utah Jazz.

“(Pattillo) hates to lose, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Kerusch said. “He has no remorse for anybody that isn’t on his team. I couldn’t deal with him if he was the enemy.

“He might actually make me cry.”

McDonald said the “scariest” thing about Pattillo is that he can get himself out of trouble with his athleticism. That can be both a blessing and a curse, McDonald said.

“He can make mistakes out there — and this is an issue because he’s had to buy into it — and still recover and make a play,” he said. “Now you love that, but you don’t want guys to rely on that.”

Pattillo said his hatred for losing stems from winning at the highest level at Oklahoma.

He notched nine points and six rebounds against No. 1 North Carolina in the Elite Eight of the 2009 NCAA tournament, which is experience he said he draws from every day.

“I know what it takes to get to the tournament, so I can bring that type of leadership,” he said. “I played with (first-round draft pick) Blake Griffin and … I learned a lot from watching him lead the team to the tournament, so I’m going to bring that leadership to this team.”

McDonald said Pattillo was standoffish at first with the coaches and players, most likely because of his previous experience at Oklahoma.

But over time, McDonald said Pattillo’s come to understand that he can make his one season at WKU a memorable one.

“I have a lot of respect for Juan for his approach to the game,” McDonald said. “It’s taken him some time to kind of trust us that we really want the best for him, and that we want him to have everything he wants to realize as a player and a student.”

Other people have taken notice of Pattillo’s potential as well. Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook recently named him its Preseason Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year.

He still has a lot to prove after just two exhibition games in Diddle Arena, but Pattillo said he welcomes the pressure.

He said he has the same expectations for himself and for WKU.

“You can’t shy away from things in life,” Pattillo said. “Either way, it’s going to hit you whether you want it or not. I take on everything with basketball, and I don’t shy away from it. I’m not a shy person.”