Three months shy of his high school graduation, Drake Patterson was still searching for an opportunity to continue his basketball career.
He was determined not to give up on his aspiration to play Division I or Division II basketball, but there was a slight problem: After the conclusion of his senior season at Blue Springs South, he remained without a scholarship offer.
The only glimmer of hope was an opportunity to drive to Drury University in Springfield for an open tryout. He took it.
“To be honest, most (Division) II schools told me I wasn't big enough or fast enough or strong enough to make an impact,” Patterson said. “When I came to Drury, the coaches liked my style of play and offered me a spot.”
It was a good hunch from the Drury coaching staff.
Two years later, Patterson is a regular fixture in the starting lineup for a Drury team that will play in its first ever NCAA Division II Elite Eight game Thursday. The Panthers, 28-4, will meet South Carolina-Aiken, 25-7, at 7:30 p.m. at Freedom Hall in Louisville.
Patterson has made an impact as a sophomore shooting guard. He is second on the team in three-pointer (46) and second in three-point percentage (44.7 percent) while averaging 6.1 points per game.
After his freshman season included limited playing time, Patterson worked to improve his defense — a key element in Drury’s postseason run. The Panthers hold opponents to 62.4 points per game on just 40.7 percent shooting.
“Especially for a guy like me who’s not super athletic, the only way you can stay ahead is by reading the opponent and learning how to anticipate,” Patterson said. “I’ve learned from our seniors how to become a smarter player. I knew if I wanted to play, I had to play defense.”
His improvement as been a welcome addition for Drury, which won the Great Lakes Valley Conference for the fifth time in eight years under coach Steve Hesser.
The Panthers primarily use an eight-man rotation led by senior guard Alex Hall, who averages 19.4 points per game. As a sophomore, Patterson is the youngest player in the starting lineup.
Drury has tied a school record with 20 consecutive wins heading into Thursday’s game. The streak has included a GLVC tournament championship, along with Midwest Regional wins against Findlay, Michigan Tech and Bellarmine.
The Panthers can set a school record for victories Thursday night — even if that’s far from their minds.
“We’re all doing a great job of just taking as it goes,” Patterson said. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that we’re playing in the Elite Eight. But we’re definitely not taking it for granted. We're enjoying it.
“And it would be awesome to play in a Final Four.”