Passion. Accountability. Defense. Intensity. Family. If a team is a direct reflection of the traits that its head coach possesses, then the future of the Northern Illinois men's basketball program is in good hands.
NIU mentor Ricardo Patton enters his third year rebuilding the Huskie program in 2009-10, and like many other coaches across the country, will go from having one of the youngest teams in the Mid-American Conference, to one with great depth and elevated expectations, in the span of just one year.
When Patton was hired, NIU officials coveted a head coach with unmatched experience, and someone that would help restore the tradition of Huskie basketball in Illinois, one of the most talent and tradition-rich basketball states in the country. Patton brought both intangibles to the table, coming off a successful 11-year run as the head coach at Colorado, along with a commitment to establishing a recruiting base in and around the city of Chicago, and in the state of Illinois as a whole.
The latter part of the rebuilding process continues to be a key part of Patton, and his staff's vision. Shortly after his hiring on March 19, 2007, Patton began the arduous task of restoring NIU's basketball tradition and that restoration process began with reconnecting with the coaches in the state of Illinois. The results two years later: A roster that includes five Chicago natives, and a total of eight players hailing from the state of Illinois.
The 2008-09 Huskies showed significant improvement in year two of the Patton era. NIU fielded a team with a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores, and ended the campaign with a four-victory (10-20) improvement from the 2007-08 season (6-22), including a two-win (5-11) step up in MAC play (3-12). Patton picked up his 200th career win in a dramatic 56-55 win over Ball State, which eventually won the MAC-West regular-season title, and garnered the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament.
For the second-consecutive season, the Huskies boasted one of the league's most talented newcomers, as freshman Mike DiNunno led all MAC freshmen in scoring (12.3 ppg), assists (2.62 apg), free throw percentage (.732), three-point field goals made per game (1.93) and minutes played (29.34 mpg). Darion "Jake" Anderson, one year after being tabbed the MAC Freshman of the Year, earned second-team All-MAC plaudits in his sophomore campaign.
In his 11 full seasons as the head coach at CU, Patton etched his name into the annals of Buffs basketball history. His 184 wins rank second all-time in school history, and six of the Buffaloes' nine postseason appearances during the Division I era came under the tutelage of Patton. All six of those seasons included 18 or more total wins, a plateau the Buffaloes have reached just 11 times in the 107-year history of the program.
Success came quick to Patton after taking over as head coach at Colorado on Jan. 16, 1996, following a two-month stint as the program's interim head coach. In Patton's first full season, the 1996-97 Buffaloes went 22-10 (11-5 Big 12), finished second in the Big 12 Conference regular-season standings, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Basketball Times tabbed him the West Region Coach of the Year following that record-setting campaign. It marked CU's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1969 and the highest Big 12 finish since the 1972-73 season.
In 2002-03, Colorado returned to the NCAA Tournament by reaching the 20-win plateau (20-12, 9-7 Big 12) and a berth in the South Region as the 10th seed. The following season, Patton's squad was invited to the National Invitation Tournament after posting an impressive 10-6 mark in Big 12 play, good enough for a fourth-place finish.
During the 2005-06 season, Patton's veteran-laden squad went 20-10 (9-7 Big 12), recorded a fifth-place Big 12 Conference finish, and made Colorado's fourth NIT appearance in the past eight seasons. Overall, Patton strung together back-to-back winning seasons twice during his tenure, a feat that hadn't been accomplished at CU in 15 years prior to his arrival. He also posted winning campaigns in four of his final five years with the program. In Patton's final season at Colorado (2006-07), his roster included eight freshmen.
Colorado's lone two NBA players both were recruited by and played under Patton. As a Buffs assistant coach, Patton was a key to the recruitment of Colorado prep standout and future Buffaloes' All-American Chauncey Billups. Billups, who now stars for his hometown Denver Nuggets, left Colorado after the 1996-97 season for the NBA, where he was the No. 3 selection in the 1997 draft. Billups and Patton's relationship is still strong. The former NBA Finals MVP traveled to DeKalb, Ill., last summer to play basketball with NIU's players.
Another NBA standout, former forward David Harrison, played three years (2001-04) for Patton, still holds the school record for single-season and career field goal percentage, and is the school's 11th all-time scorer with 1,317 points. Harrison was a 2003-04 First-Team All-Big 12 selection, and was the first-round selection of the Indiana Pacers (29th overall) in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Before landing in Boulder, Patton served two seasons (1991-93) as an assistant coach to Frankie Allen at Tennessee State, where he was instrumental in recruiting another future star, Carlos Rogers, the No. 10 pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. Prior to that, Patton was an assistant at Arkansas-Little Rock for one season (1990-91), and Middle Tennessee State, from 1988-90. Patton was on the staffs at both TSU and MTSU when each won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship, and participated in the NCAA's Field of 64.
The Nashville, Tenn., native prepped at Hume Fogg High School, where he lettered in basketball before beginning his college career at John C. Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala. He moved onto Belmont College in his hometown, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and a pair of athletic letters. Patton garnered All-American honors for his senior season at Belmont, and has been inducted into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame. In 1989, Patton earned an M.A. in administration and supervision from Trevecca Nazarene College.
Patton's dedication to the more personal side of each athlete has led him to assume the role of a teacher, guiding his players in their personal development. Each athlete is required to take an etiquette class prior to the season's start. Players also attend several different denominations of churches, along with visits to the state prison.
Before dedicating his career to coaching basketball, Patton worked as a studio cameraman from 1980-85 at Nashville's CBS affiliate, WTVF-TV, the same station that Oprah Winfrey started her career at.
Patton lives an active lifestyle as an avid golfer and motorcycle rider. He also holds a fifth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and enjoys horseback riding. He and his wife Jennifer have two sons, Ricardo Jr. (20), and Michael (19), who is a sophomore on the NIU basketball team. Ricardo Jr. is enrolled in NIU's College of Business, and is a former walk-on Huskie football player.