Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Creighton’s Justin Patton Had Just One Scholarship Offer, Now He Has Lottery-Pick Potential
NEW YORK — Only one school was smart enough to offer a scholarship to Justin Patton out of Omaha (NE) North High School: Creighton.
Now the 7-foot, 230-pound redshirt freshman is a potential NBA lottery pick.
DraftExpress.com ranks Patton as the No. 33 prospect in 2017, ahead of names like N.C. State’s Omer Yurtseven and Duke’s Marques Bolden. He’s currently projected as the No. 12 pick in the 2018 Draft.
“He’s getting better every day,” one NBA scout said of Patton. “He’s only a freshman whose body needs to improve.”
“The sky is the limit, he has tremendous upside,” a second scout said.
After Patton destroyed St. John’s to the tune of a career-high 25 points along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists in Creighton’s 85-72 win over the Red Storm on Wednesday night, Chris Mullin offered up this praise of the 19-year-old Patton.
“He reminds me of Marcus Camby,” Mullin said when I asked what he thought of Patton. “[He has] great hands and even banged a three. Especially tonight, he looked All-NBA.”
Patton, one of 20 men named to the preseason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year list, is averaging 13.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for No. 10 Creighton (14-1, 2-1 Big East), whose only loss was to No. 1 Villanova on New Year’s Eve, a game in which Patton went for 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
“Justin’s best basketball is still ahead of him,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He continues to grow and improve. A lot of it has to do with his work ethic and how he understands the value of competing on a consistent basis. As good as he was offensively the first half, he was equally as good defensively. That wasn’t the case the first five or six games of the season. His low post game continues to develop… His patience down there and his footwork is off the charts. He’s been a pleasure to coach and he’s obviously a special young talent.”
The way he’s improving, it will be tough for Big East teams to defend him the rest of the season, and he figures to cause major problems for any team that faces the Bluejays in March.
“That’s a tough task for us,” said St. John’s freshman guard Shamorie Ponds. “He’s a big guy, has multiple moves and we didn’t have an answer for him. He’s a great player.”
Ponds and Patton figure to battle it out for Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Ponds has won three Rookie of the Week honors, while Patton has won two and is in position to earn a third come Monday after his performance against St. John’s.
All of these accolades are coming for a dude who literally had one scholarship offer out of high school.
“We knew who he was, obviously,” Creighton assistant Steve Lutz told me. “He was a local kid who was doing well but he wasn’t putting up huge numbers. And we brought him over to our Elite camp in June  and offered him a scholarship and he accepted it a couple days later [on June 17, 2014].”
“Instantly, it might not even have been 30 seconds,” Patton said of when he accepted the offer.
How many other schools had offered Patton at that point?
“Creighton, that was it,” he said.
“Creighton, to their credit, was the only school that truly recognized his upside and potential,” said Bob Franzese, the general manager of the Omaha Sports Academy who was also Patton’s AAU coach.
Patton was a guard before adding seven inches during a growth spurt between eighth and 10th grades. His father is 7-foot-3.
“Yeah, I was a guard,” he said. “I wasn’t really that good at shooting, I was just chucking shots. I got taller. People started telling me I was a post. I didn’t believe it at first, but we worked on those moves in practice. And [the] coaches did a good job of putting me in certain situations and drills and I stuff where I can just develop and become the player I am today.”
Because he played on a local AAU team, the OSA Crusaders, that wasn’t sponsored by a shoe company, he wasn’t highly ranked by the recruiting services. His team did, however, win its pool in back-to-back years at the Fab 48.
“The first time that the major scouts were really able to see him was in July ,” Lutz said. “I called them and told him they needed to see him and evaluate him. And the rest is history. I think he ended up being the No 42 best player in the country and he was a five-star.”
Now more than two years later, Lutz estimated that 10 NBA teams have been through Creighton to see Patton. That number only figures to grow in the coming months.
For the program’s sake, they are hoping he stays at least another year.
“Nobody’s saying that he needs to come out right now,” Lutz said. “But he’s definitely a promising prospect.”
Photo: The AP
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.