David Patrick: On Ben Simmons and the value of Aussie talent in college
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It’s David Patrick’s 11th year in NCAA Division I college basketball, following a professional playing career. As an Australian assistant coach, Patrick has made a name for himself in being able to identify, recruit and nurture elite basketball talent in one of the most competitive basketball competitions in the world.
Six months into his new role as an assistant coach at Texas Christian University (TCU), Patrick is happy with the progress being made.
“We are doing well, real well,” said Patrick who spoke exclusively with The Pick and Roll. “We had to get better, and we are better.”
Patrick has been an integral member of the coaching staff at a number of college basketball programs, ones that have since become synonymous featuring with Australian talent.
His first role was as an assistant coach at Nicholls where he would spend the 2004/05 season. He would move on to become the Director of Basketball Operations with Saint Mary’s, where after one year, he was elevated to the role of assistant coach with the Gaels. Four years later he would leave Saint Mary’s after two NCAA tournaments and a Sweet 16 appearance. After a stint as a personnel scout with the Houston Rockets in the NBA, he took on an assistant coaching role with LSU for the 2012/13 season. He was instrumental in ensuring Ben Simmons’ brief, yet well-publicised college career at LSU.
All of these programs embraced the Australian culture and the talent pipeline from down under. TCU is no different.
The value of Aussie talent
Seven years after his successful tenure with the Gaels, Patrick looked back fondly on his time in Moraga, a period in which the world saw the emergence of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
“That was a great time,” expressed Patrick.
“If Patty [Mills] and Delly [Dellavedova] were looking to head to college now, they would be recruited heavily by major college programs. Access to information, games and tape is much, much better now. Back then, not many people [in the US] knew about these guys. Not a lot was known about Australian basketball and the talent we had back then.”
With both Mills and then Dellavedova drawing national attention and delivering on-court success, they have helped raise the profile of Saint Mary’s, which also became a genuine West Coast Conference contender and NCAA tournament participant. The Australians at the helm of that success brought to light the untapped potential of quality players being recruited from Australia.
While Patrick has helped recruit many players to the programs he has been involved with, there are a number of key reasons why he believes Australians have now become so highly valued in college basketball.
“Australian players come in with no ego,” outlined Patrick. “They can be coached. That’s often a big difference between local players and those coming from Australia. Some nationally ranked players come in and join the program and don’t wan’t to be coached.”
Patrick would go on to explain some of the differences in attitude and the value of winning between players coming through the US high school system, rather than those coming across from Australia.
“They also play so much over here [in the US], and sometimes the value of the game, and what it means to win, can sometimes get lost,” shared Patrick.
“Kids don’t get to play as frequently in Australia, and I think means the result has more meaning, more impact. The value of winning [in Australia] is huge.”
When you factor in the tyranny of distance between Australia and the US, those from down under making the trek to play college basketball are also making a massive commitment. Moving from one side of the world to the other, away from family and friends, is a big decision to make for someone so young.
“When you have to travel thousands of miles away from home, to the other side of the world, [those] kids from Australia are focused and will take advantage of every opportunity,” Patrick further added.
“It is a massive commitment. But for them, the opportunity is massive too. Many of Ben’s [Simmons] friends back in Australia would kill for the opportunity to be on a basketball scholarship [over here].”
With more than 60 Australian men and 70 women playing in Division I college basketball this season, Patrick would go on to explain that the Australian invasion would only continue to grow. The logic behind his thinking centered around the increased awareness of Australian basketball, the competitiveness of recruitment for quality players, but also the positive impact the Australian NBA players were having on their teams.
“There is no doubt that the number of Aussies [in college basketball] will grow even more,” added Patrick.
“Now there is a growing interest. Teams and coaches are looking for the ‘next big thing’. They are looking for the next hidden gem, and are now looking beyond the traditional places [like the Centre of Excellence]. Plus with greater access, and better information now available, is at for talent to be recruited and to some of the bigger programs too.”
While Australians remain littered throughout mid-major programs like Saint Mary’s, we are already seeing a rise in the talent being snared by major programs. Louisville boast two Aussies in Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel, both from the Longhorns basketball program in Melbourne. Jack White became the first Australian male on the Duke roster, while Isaac Humphries is at Kentucky, just to name a few. Patrick also spoke highly of LSU’s Australian big man Duop Reath, who is starring with the Tigers in their first season post Ben Simmons.
On Ben Simmons
Patrick was a key reason for LSU luring the 2016 number 1 NBA draft pick to the Tigers for his one and only season of college. As Ben Simmons’ godfather, Patrick has close ties to both Simmons and his family from his time as a player.
While being careful in his choice of words, Patrick did share some thoughts on his godson’s documentary, One & Done.
“In speaking as a coach, it’s a tough deal to have a camera following the family, the team, every day,” shared Patrick. “However it was good for Ben. The camera did not affect him at all.”
“You have to understand that he had a lot of interest, with the cameras and the hype, following him since his time at Montverde. He was used to it. However, his team mates were not. I think that could have impacted the team adversely. There was a bit of jealousy and stuff happening within the team.”
Patrick would further explain that Simmons was NBA-ready in his time at LSU, and looking forward to seeing him hit the court and the opportunity to go head-to-head with his good friend Dante Exum.
“Ben is unique. Even Dante [Exum] is too. They both played for the [Australian] national team at a very young age,” said Patrick. “Ben is physically ready [for the NBA], he was when he was still at LSU. Dante is now looking physically capable too. They are great mates and looking forward to playing against each other.”
When asked as to when he thought Simmons would be able to return from injury, he advised things were looking promising.
“I know he wants to get back on the floor after the All-Star break,” Patrick confirmed, explaining he had talked to Simmons over the phone recently. “As you have heard, he is back training and things are going well so far.”
“People need to remember that he is still a young kid. As much as he wants to play, he needs to look after himself and recognise it’s a business. Mentally, he does not want to sit out.”
Patrick was in no doubt as to what influence Simmons would have on the 76ers, when he does return from his injury.
“He can and will make an immediate impact. They are one playmaker short, and he will take on a lot of the playmaking responsibility.”
Focused on TCU
Right now, Patrick is focused on the task at hand at TCU.
“We are doing really well right now, said Patrick. “We are laying some very strong foundations.”
Included in those foundations at the Horned Frogs are two Australians, Kouat Noi and Lat Mayen.
The 6’7 Noi found his way to TCU via Montverde Academy, taking the same pathway as Simmons, and committed not long after Patrick joined his new side. Having already represented Australia, earning a silver medal at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships, Noi had played alongside Humphries, Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami) and Tom Wilson (ex-SMU).
Mayen is a 6’8 forward out of the Centre of Excellence, who was mentored by former Saint Mary’s assistant coach Adam Caporn and played alongside White, Will Magnay (Tulsa) and Angus Glover (Saint Mary’s). Like Noi, he too has played for Australia on the world stage, having played at the 2016 Albert Schweitzer Tournament. Both Noi and Mayen highlight the ability Patrick has in luring top-level talent from Australia to the US.
“These are seriously talented guys,” explained Patrick in discussing Noi and Mayen. “These guys will have an impact here, especially next season.”
Patrick has made his own mark as an Australian who’s now firmly entrenched in the college basketball coaching and recruitment fraternity. He shows no signs of slowing down either, and looks to help bring success to TCU using a tried and trusted model that involved having an Australian playing on your team.
Thanks to David Patrick for making the time to speak with The Pick and Roll. You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @CoachDPatrick.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR