Look, let’s not pretend that the past 12 months have been easy on anyone. But for argument’s sake, the balancing act that Ayanna Patterson has had to do during that time has been substantial.
Through injury, a pandemic, mounting pressure on the court and in a college decision, she has flourished and produced, by far, the best season of her high school career. Because of that, Patterson is the Outside the Huddle Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2020-2021 season.
The season pushed Patterson into a primary leadership role with Homestead after the team graduated many of their leaders in 2020. The team returned just a few players who had significant time, including an injured Amber Austin. That put the onus on Patterson and senior Grace Sullivan to lead the way physically and mentally for a team that was going through, not a rebuild, but the closest thing to it that Homestead has had in some time.
Patterson will admit that it initially took her some time to get comfortable as a leader, but even after the first game she was getting more confident in stepping into that role even in a loss to Carmel to tip off the season. Patterson immediately needed to be, at the very least, a silent leader to facilitate all of what was going on around her.
On the court, Patterson was dedicated into getting stronger on the court as a junior, which helped with her improved consistency as the primary weapon for Homestead.
“With the touches I was given, responsibility that coach [Rod] Parker has given me, I just had to be more consistent with the touches and make sure I was being consistent scoring,” Patterson said.
Consistency couldn’t come without push back. While Patterson was continuing to alter her game on the high school level, teams kept taking their best shot at the Spartans. “Homestead versus everybody” really isn’t just a social media tagline, it is something that is very real not just in the area but across the state. Everyone gave their best shot at the Spartans and at Patterson, being a top player in the Class of 2022 in the nation and all.
But Patterson knows that target loomed and will continue to loom large. While plenty of teams looked to take advantage of Homestead’s most losing season since 2011-12, they Spartans were still 20-6 and Sectional champions. Their down year is pretty much the best year possible for everyone else. While Homestead held their reign in the first round of the postseason and Patterson earned every honor under the sun, including being named All-State Supreme 15 by the IBCA and All-State First Team by the ICGSA. Add in her March 20 commitment to the University of Connecticut and it doesn’t matter that Homestead was “down” by traditional standards, Patterson and the Spartans remain in every team in the state’s crosshairs.
“They are coming for you, they are coming for your name. Go into every game with that mentality and perform,” Patterson said.
Staying healthy was another key for Patterson in her junior season. Some summer ball has been lost to injury, as was some of her sophomore season. If she was to put up the numbers she was able to in Homestead’s march to 2021 sectional title, she had to take care of her body.
At the end of the season, Patterson was the top scoring player in the area at 21.8 points per game, earning her an Indiana Junior All-Star nod and a number 3 ranking in the ESPN Super 60 for the Class of 2022. More impressive could have been her success ratio, hitting 51 percent of her shots this season. She also added 11 rebounds and 2.3. blocks per contest.
Patterson did make the aforementioned college commitment after the season. She had narrowed her choices down and with wanting to get the commitment out of the way before her final summer of basketball and her senior season, when all was said and done, the choice was a no brainer. After all, UConn only has 11 national titles, as of right now, and are a 2021 Final Four team. Its almost like Patterson beams with blue, white and red Huskies apparel on both on the day of her commitment and in the weeks that have followed.
“You can go and you have half of the WBNA that went to UConn,” Patterson said with a wide grin. “It has always been a dream of mine to play in the WNBA. To be able to go play with coach [Geno] Auriemma, one of the greatest coaches in the women’s game, to play for him and that program is going to mean everything.”
Enjoying and focusing on her goals next season were key when making the commitment now and not later. Those goals are lofty: Miss Basketball, the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and, of course, a state title.
“I want to go out with a ring,” Patterson said. “As much as everything is given to you, it can be taken away. Someone is out there working as much as me or harder.”