Somehow, as one athlete seems to do every high school basketball game, Mikey Patterson became the subject of a certain student section’s ire.
“Airball!” they chanted every time he touched the ball.
“C’mon Mikey,” they leered in mock baby-talk.
Wheaton High School’s senior shooting guard didn’t even give them the satisfaction of a blink. Student sections can’t bait Patterson. After all, not even gangs in the heart of New York could.
Patterson wasn’t always such a model of equanimity when others hurled insults at him. Most disputes were settled one way: with his fists.
“My personality has changed so much,” he said. “The way I used to handle stuff — I’m much more calm now.”
Raised in Prince George’s County for nearly his entire life, Patterson grew up with respect being his No. 1 priority, a lesson ingrained in him when he first began playing organized football two years above his age group. When he was 13, he tackled 15-year-olds. Respect didn’t come easy, but “that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Regardless, he gave up both football and basketball when he enrolled at Henry A. Wise, the 2012 4A state football champion, as a freshman. He was, both mentally and physically, in a rut.
“I just wanted to look for a change,” he said. For better or worse, he found that change at Bushwick High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“When I moved to New York,” he recalled of his sophomore year, “everything changed.”
The first three months were smooth. Patterson was enjoying his classes and marveling at how fast life moved in “the big city.”
“Everything was great,” he said. “But when I looked around ... ” and his voice trailed off, though it’s easy to complete the sentence: he didn’t like what he saw. His friends began mixing with the wrong crowd. They joined gangs. Patterson should too, they said.
“I said, ‘Nah,’” he said, “‘I’m not going to do this.’”
And he didn’t. Six months later he moved back to Maryland, though to Montgomery County rather than Prince George’s.
“I thought I would go back to my old ways,” he said. “[New York] changed my whole background, my whole personality, the way I handle life. Period. Everything changed, my whole life changed.”
At Wheaton, Patterson began playing football again. He took over at quarterback and coach Ernie Williams thrust him into a starting role midseason. When winter rolled around, he rediscovered his love for basketball, growing close enough to then-coach Sharief Hashim that he walked Patterson out on senior night on Saturday. It was this exact type of change Patterson sought when he moved to Brooklyn. Some lessons are simply learned the hard way.
Now, when opposing student sections taunt him, he doesn’t solve it with anger. In fact, his emotional composure is what coach Marco Basso-Luca calls “the thing we’re really proud about.”
“He doesn’t let the game going on affect him or any of the calls from the refs affect him,” Basso-Luca said.
“I don’t pay any attention to it because I know that people are going to say what they’re going to say,” Patterson added. “I just got to block them out. When I get on the court, it’s all business.”
Assistant coach Brenton McCoy laughed when speaking about Patterson’s stony demeanor on the court, evoking an image of Mike Winchell, a character from the movie Friday Night Lights, whose refusal to smile drew playful mocking from teammates.
“One day, we just want to see Mike smiling on the court,” McCoy said. “Sometimes if he’ll hit a [3-point shot] he’ll get a little smirk, but he doesn’t really smile. When he’s in game mode, he’s in game mode.”
The 6-foot-2 senior is averaging 12.5 points per game — second behind Ibrahim Kallon’s 19.3 — and, according to Basso-Luca, is Wheaton’s most dangerous threat from the perimeter.
“We’re thrilled with the way he’s playing,” Basso-Luca said. “He’s got a heck of a motor, he’s going 100 miles per hour all game.”
That too is what struck McCoy the first time he saw Patterson play.
“He stood out to me in the first game because he works hard and you recognize people like that,” he said. “He just stood out right away. He doesn’t always show up in the stat line, but he shows up every game.”
On Saturday, Patterson smiled easily as Hashim walked him out to midcourt for senior night. As Basso-Luca read off superlative after superlative — “Mr. Intensity, the best 3-point shooter, hard-hat player” — Patterson grinned sheepishly.