MEN'S BASKETBALL: SUMMIT LEAGUE TOURNAMENT
Matchups TBD • March 5-8 • Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The horn blared. The players rushed the student section, like they do after every win. There, UNO celebrated the final home game of the season. Somebody even put a cowboy hat on the team's little point guard.
Devin Patterson had just completed a vintage performance — 29 points and two huge jumpers that blunted an Oral Roberts comeback. He jumped in the mosh pit, trying to soak it up.
Three years ago, Patterson was a junior college freshman in New Mexico, originally from Portsmouth, Virginia. He took a visit to Omaha thinking the place was "country." Jake White wasn't here yet. Nor was Randy Reed, Tra-Deon Hollins or Tre'Shawn Thurman.
He could've gone back to juco for his sophomore year and possibly become a high-major D-I player. But Derrin Hansen offered him a scholarship. How could he turn it down? He listened to Hansen's vision for Maverick basketball and bought it.
After Thursday's 102-98 victory over Oral Roberts, another Maverick thrill ride with NBA like runs, Patterson reflected on his senior night.
More than 3,000 fans had shown up to brand-new Baxter Arena, including his family members who'd flown in from Virginia. UNO had locked up the No. 3 seed in the Summit tournament. Quite a difference from 2013, when Patterson joined a team coming off an 1120 season.
"I kind a got sad when the buzzer went off," he said. "Omaha's been good to me. I love my coaches. They believed in me."
When Hansen first saw Patterson in junior college, he knew the kid was only about 5-foot-9 — he's listed at 5-11 now. But man, he could scoot. And score. And stay in front of big-time guards. You may not find a faster player in Division I.
"What Devin did for us is, even though he's slight in stature, he gave us high-major speed in a low-to-mid-major conference," Hansen said. "So I knew no matter how good he got, he gave us something that other teams would not have."
Patterson allowed Hansen to push pace like never before — the Mavs are sixth nationally in tempo this season. He helped turn UNO games into track meets and, thus, accelerated the climb to Division I competitiveness.
"No offense, but when I came here, we weren't really playing hard every game," Patterson said. "Guys didn't have anything to look up to."
He was a critical cog in UNO's CIT bid in 2013-14. This season, he's averaging 17.5 points per night.
Patterson, more than any other player, turned UNO into a fun product. Every game he makes two or three moves that draw "oooohs" from the crowd. Those sounds got louder this season as the wins piled up.
"We really didn't have a student section my sophomore year," Patterson said. "They just kept getting better. We just thanked them for always being there for us. I feel like in the future it's going to keep getting bigger and bigger."
It's a little strange to walk away feeling like the best days are ahead, but Patterson takes pride in kick-starting UNO's Division I evolution.
"This basketball team, we've got a lot of good, young players," Patterson said. "I feel like they're gonna be top-3 in the Summit every year."