Recruiting throughout the Southeast region and across the country is one thing. Trying to plant a purple-and-gold flag down under in Australia, 10 time zones away, is a different undertaking altogether.
It helps, however, that Australia is home for Patrick.
Born in Bermuda he spent much of his adolescence (ages 10-17) living in Melbourne before his journey took him to Baton Rouge, where in 1994 he finished his senior season at the former Chapel Trafton High School.
And for the better part of the next fortnight, Patrick is taking LSU basketball on a tour of his old stomping grounds, introducing culture and a different brand of ball to a Tiger team as new to each other as many of the players are to the concept of needing a passport.
“We’re taking them to the zoo to see koalas and kangaroos. It’ll be a fun trip,” Patrick noted before takeoff Tuesday afternoon, “not only from a basketball standpoint but from a learning standpoint. Some of these guys have never been out of the country.”
But, when taking breaks from putting another shrimp on the barbie, tour ringleader Patrick is hopeful the players can gain a deeper appreciation for the game that unites them.
“For me (the most exciting part) is us playing against Melbourne United, which used to be the Melbourne Tigers. That’s my old club I came up through,” recalled Patrick. “For them to see it’s not just outback and kangaroos, there are major cities over there. I think it’s going to be eye-opening, not so much for (head) coach (Johnny Jones) because I took him over there in September, but for the players. They’ll see these kids come from major cities and basketball is a big deal over there.”
Basketball has indeed become part of the national fabric for Aussies. And growing tradition dictates that the best Boomers end up plying their trade in America, giving Patrick a front-row seat for the progressive development, which has LSU ties.
“It started off with Eddie Palubinskas obviously here years ago, and then Andrew Gaze (who went to Seton Hall in the late 80s) and Luc Longley (who attended New Mexico). I think the fact that Al Green, who played here, is still over there and is coming to our game (is great). So I think for our guys to see the LSU legacy even as far away as Australia will be good for them.”
None of this of course is news to Patrick, who is a regular visitor to the country for reasons both business and personal.
“A lot,” Patrick answered with a laugh when asked how often he returns to Australia. “I’m probably there three or four times a year. My mother just passed last year, but the rest of my family on my mother’s side is still over there.”
The business side of his international travels is expanding a recruiting network Patrick first planted seeds for as an assistant in the mid-to-late 2000s at Nicholls State (La.) and then St. Mary’s (Cal.), the latter of which he brought current NBAers Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova.
Now Patrick is attempting to add more talented youngsters from down under to LSU’s Aussie haul of Darcy Malone, from Canberra, and Ben Simmons, Patrick’s godson who hails from Melbourne.
“I think the fact that the kids we’re recruiting can see us on their soil (is big). It also shows them that they can play in the SEC,” Patrick said of the recruiting advantages of a trip like this. “A lot of the negative recruiting I guess tells them ‘How can you play in the SEC or ACC? Why not stay West?’
“Well when they see that Darcy is doing well here and obviously Ben has a chance to do very well here, plus they see they can fit in with the type of talent we have, it helps from a recruiting standpoint. Also for them to see Johnny’s personality, the way he coaches and our style of play, it only enhances us as we try to get players over there.”
Simmons, quickly becoming a national treasure, will be the main attraction on the team’s 12-day, five-game tour, which features playing stops in Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and Auchenflower.
As highly touted a prep prospect as LSU basketball has landed since Shaquille O’Neal, Simmons returns to his native land a superstar before playing a second on the college level. Patrick recognizes the significance.
“A lot of kids from Australia look up to playing for their country, playing in the Olympics. Ben’s got that chance. For him to also have an LSU uniform on, helps him, helps us and helps brand all of us.”
Knowing Malone was on the recruiting radar and Simmons was a distinct possibility down the road made trekking to Australia a no-brainer for Jones and Patrick when the two conceived the trip upon arriving at LSU in 2012.
“We talked about when we got here that we had an international trip coming up. Before we got here the previous guys went to Europe, to Italy,” Patrick said, looking back. “This time of the year there in Australia, they’re in their preseason getting ready to play and we’re in our preseason as well, so I think it’s a better fit for us. Then obviously selfishly for Darcy and for Ben and even for us recruiting-wise, it’s a great opportunity, because we want to attach ourselves to the best kids over there and brand ourselves over there.”
Another unintentional ace-in-the-hole recruiter, by proxy, for the LSU basketball program is football head coach Les Miles, who has made a habit of nabbing his punters from Australia, from Brad Wing to Jamie Keehn to incoming freshman Josh Growden, from Sydney.
According to Patrick the synergy wasn’t exactly mapped out.
“You know what, it’s coincidental,” Patrick remarked. “But Jamie Keehn being here helped because him and Darcy got along when Darcy came on his visit. Then Brad Wing, he happened to be from my neighborhood in Melbourne. So I think those interlining connections help. There’s also Alliyah Fareo (from Sydney) on the women’s team. It shows people over there they have somewhat of a family away from home in Baton Rouge.”
Finally, when it’s time to jump center and play ball these next two weeks, Patrick will have his eyes trained on a couple of areas of adjustment for LSU compared to the American game.
“Two things stand out. The speed of play with the 24-second clock is going to be new to our guys and the lack of timeouts. Here, you get your media timeouts every four minutes. You don’t get that over there, and the coach can’t bail you out with a timeout,” said Patrick. “Then the physicality. It’ll be a good test for us because you’re playing against real pros. The Sydney Kings who we’re playing against have the kid Marcus Thornton, who was drafted by the Celtics. They also have Josh Childress, who’s a former lottery pick. It’ll be a good challenge to see where we’re at.”
The tour should also provide Patrick a moment or two to reflect on where he’s at, while displaying to his co-workers and players a place where he’s been for a big chunk of his life.
LSU’S TOUR SCHEDULE
Saturday, Aug. 15, 4:30 AM CT – Newcastle All-Stars at Newcastle Basketball Stadium in Newcastle
Sunday, Aug. 16, 4 AM CT – Sydney Kings (NBL) at Brydens Stadium at University of Sydney
Tuesday, Aug. 18, 4:30 AM CT – Queensland All-Stars at NAB Basketball Stadium in Auchenflower
Thursday, Aug. 20, 4 AM CT – Melbourne United at Dandenong Stadium in Melbourne
Saturday, Aug. 22, 4 AM CT – Melbourne United at Hisense Arena in Melbourne