No foreigner to traveling: UCR’s Chris Patton to play abroad

Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER
Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER

Traveling around the world to play the sport you’re passionate about is a dream for many kids around the world, and it’s a dream that UCR men’s basketball center and native Australian Chris Patton has been living for a while now. Now that he’s graduating from Riverside this June, he has the opportunity to keep the dream alive. The Australian looks to travel to Europe to do so. With that comes leaving the comfort zone he has developed here at UCR, but Patton is no stranger to life on the move.

Growing up, Patton played a lot of sports, but the sport where he had the best chance to go professional was Australian football — comparable to rugby rather than American football. However, the Aussie didn’t have the passion for Australian football like his younger brother Jonathon, who was the first pick in the 2011 Australian Football League draft. The two were very close growing up, and still are today. The pair even got matching tattoos with the word brotherhood showing their close bond. And that same passion that Jonathon had for Australian football, Chris developed for basketball. By the end of his high school years, he started to gain notoriety, but the 6-foot-10-inch center wasn’t always the best on court.

“When I was young I wasn’t very good at basketball,” he said. “I sat on a lot of benches. It honestly wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting on benches, even in my area where the level of competition isn’t as high. And it wasn’t until I was about 17 or 18 that I was one of the better players on the team.”

His early teams were comprised of the best players from the area he grew up in, but despite his individual success, Patton was not heavily recruited.

“I was being recruited by a few junior colleges, but the College of Southern Idaho was really the only college that was calling me a lot. They were the most active and made me feel like they really wanted me and they offered me a full scholarship, so in the end it wasn’t a real difficult decision,” Patton explained.

His sophomore year he had changed schools again, moving to Neosho Community College in Chanute, Kan. In that small town of 5,000 people, Patton started to get in better condition. “I lost a lot of weight, which is one of the reasons I went from having a decent freshman year to a pretty good sophomore year,” he stated. After that season, and even during it, Patton started to receive letters from Division I schools interested in him — one of which being UCR.

“UCR had been recruiting me for the longest and probably the most consistently. I had been talking to (former) Coach Wooldridge, who came to Kansas twice. So I saw them the most out of any school, and then I was really interested in going somewhere where there was good weather and a conference I could compete in. In the end thought it came down to how comfortable I was with the coaches. I had been speaking to them for so long it almost felt like a personal investment, not just a basketball business investment.”

And with that, Patton came to the campus that he has called home for two years now, during which he has been the focal point of the men’s basketball team. His first season here he led the team in scoring (13.5) and was second on the team in rebounds (5.4). That season also saw him score a career-high 36 points (sixth-most in in Highlander history), and he was rewarded after the season by being placed on the All-Big West Honorable Mention team.

It was a game this season, though, that Patton considers the most memorable moment of his career at UCR. The game was a battle against Cal State Northridge on March 1, where Patton exploded for 30 points in a 106-105 double-overtime victory that was a pivotal moment for the team’s chance to secure the eighth and last Big West playoff spot.

“Finally we had one of those games where it could have gone either way and it went ours. Also it was double-overtime and I had never played in a double-overtime game and I had never been that tired after a game before. I played really well but I had two stupid fouls that could have won them the game easily.”

Those weren’t the only basketball moments that will be forever written into his memory from his time here. As if traveling from Australia to Idaho to Kansas to California wasn’t enough, he feels that “road trips in general are always a lot of fun.” In fact, traveling for games has become so routine, coming to terms with it being over has been difficult to deal with.

“It was just surreal. I just didn’t know how to feel. Normally I was just always looking forward to the next game. Also there was a sense of uncertainty. I remember thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’ Because I wanted to keep playing,” Patton said.

But if his current plans come to fruition, he will continue to play basketball and travel, only this time in Europe. “I’m talking to a lot of player agencies about representation, and I’m aiming to be playing in Europe,” he said. “Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but it looks like either way I should be playing somewhere next year, which is really good to know.”

Patton’s absence down low for the Highlanders will be widely felt, especially by his teammates. “As a teammate, Chris wanted to win first and foremost, and he did everything he could to put us in a position to do that,” junior guard Nick Gruninger explained. “He was a hard worker, one of our leading scorers, and our top scorer in the post, so we are going to have to replace his scoring and rebounding as best we can … that will mean our returners stepping up their games, and the recruits contributing when they get here over the summer.”

With his overseas plans in mind, Patton only has a few more weeks at UCR, and he has realized what he is going to miss most already.

“I’m going to miss the atmosphere here of college basketball and the camaraderie that a college team has. When after practice I leave and go home and I live close to campus so I get home and talk to my roommates and we joke around, and I have all my friends within a two to three minute walk of me. It’s turned into such a comfort zone and something that’s so easy to do. I’m just going to miss everything being so comfortable,” Patton said.

But knowing Patton’s past, there’s no doubt that he’ll adjust and gain a new comfort with wherever he moves to. And no matter where he goes, he will always be a Highlander at heart.

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