March 30, 2012
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
DENVER - Eva Patterson-Heath finally relented after two years.
Rekha, her daughter, knew the game. After all, she spent about as much time in a basketball gym or on a football field as she did in her own home. Maybe more. There was no offseason in their lives, not with summer camps rolling right into her dad's football season before meshing into mom's basketball season.
Her mother may have been in the midst of a Hall of Fame coaching career at Red Springs High School, marching her way toward 503 wins, but the little girl knew at least this much: she could keep the scorebook.
"She didn't tell you that I had to beg, did she?" Rekha Patterson says. "I wanted to keep the book in fifth grade. She didn't let me until I was in the seventh grade."
Patterson-Heath, now the Fayetteville State head women's basketball coach, would hear the complaints, even on the sideline. What's a kid so young doing keeping the book at the scorer's table?
"The thing is, she kept a perfect book," Patterson-Heath says. "Rekha was always so detail-oriented. Her attention to detail was astounding. The book was spotless. No mistakes."
Please. A high school scorebook? Varsity level? This was child's play.
Rekha Patterson starred at Red Springs High School before becoming a four-year letterwinner at North Carolina A&T. She was a team captain for two of those years. Talk to her for 10 minutes today, and instantly you'll know why.
Patterson worked a year for the NCAA, then in 2002 put together a polished resume seeking a graduate assistant position on a collegiate bench somewhere. Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey read it, and immediately sought Rekha out.
"Coach Mulkey said she had never seen such a mistake-free resume from someone seeking a grad assistant job," recalls Patterson-Heath. "Rekha got the call."
Patterson served as Baylor coordinator of basketball operations for three seasons and was the program's graduate assistant from 2002-04, where she was primarily responsible for film exchange, coordinating recruiting correspondence and visits. Her efforts helped pave the way for the Lady Bears' 2005 NCAA championship. In her first two seasons, Baylor was the 2003 WNIT runner-up and advanced to the 2004 NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
She returned to Baylor before this season after coaching stops at Creighton, Ball State and Eastern Illinois. Led by National Player of the Year candidate Brittney Griner, the Lady Bears have been ranked No. 1 the entire 2011-12 basketball season, and capped the season with a dominating 80-61 win over Notre Dame on Tuesday night in Denver to claim the school's second national championship. The Lady Bears became the first team ever to finish a season 40-0.
It's been quite a rise for the 33-year-old from the dusty sandhills of Red Springs, N.C.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I've had tremendous support growing up," Patterson says. "I feel like I'm supposed to be here. I mean, I had two parents who were coaches. My whole life has been in and around gyms, watching games and watching kids play. That's not abnormal for me. That's just what we do. This has been my life."
It didn't take long for Patterson-Heath and her husband, Fayetteville State running backs coach and director of intramurals Tim Heath, to see what their daughter did best.
Sure, she could play. Whether it was basketball, tennis or track and field, Rekha Patterson stood out. But her interests went deeper.
"It wasn't just basketball. She got to where she had a real in-depth knowledge about football," says Heath, her father. "And it wasn't just from the standpoint of being able to do stats. She understood schemes and could break down personnel. It was like, `Dad, you should take this player off of that player and move him here.' And she'd be right."
The begging aside, Patterson's parents indulged their daughter and soon began to make her a larger branch of the coaching tree. Heath would bring home video tapes of football games and watch them with her. Patterson-Heath did the same with basketball.
"She could break down film as a kid," Patterson-Heath says. "I mean really break it down. Coaching seemed like a natural next step."
Only Patterson wasn't done playing yet. But she didn't mind the film study - she was being paid for it.
"I didn't babysit," Patterson says. "I watched film."
Patterson-Heath's high school coaching career is legendary, and Heath has been a mainstay on the Broncos' football staff for many years since starring in the backfield during his college days.
But there came a time when Patterson-Heath was eager to try something new. The opportunity came in 2009 in the form of coaching Fayetteville State. Patterson-Heath liked the idea of moving into the collegiate ranks, but admits there was some trepidation.
So she called Rekha.
"When mom called me the first time seeking basketball advice, I was like, `Whoa!" Patterson says. "This was new."
It wasn't the last time, either.
"The roles have reversed," says Patterson-Heath. "I'm her mother, but she's been at the college level a lot longer than I have. She has a wealth of knowledge coaching at that level, so I'm happy to lean on her."
The two talk about twice a week, even during the season, and sometimes as many as four or five times a day if there's a pressing subject to discuss, on or off the hardwood. They only see each other about three times a year - the Final Four, though, will bring them together this weekend for an extra visit - and while the topics can run heavy on hoops at times, it's not always that way.
Besides, as Patterson likes to say, basketball is basketball.
"Really, the only difference between our levels is that our players are bigger, stronger and faster," Patterson says. "Nobody's reinventing the game of basketball."
But they do check each other's teams out.
"I'm always on Twitter, getting updates on FSU," Patterson says. "That way I can have it almost instantaneously. I watch the webcasts, read everything on the website and check out the interview videos. She knows I'm her biggest fan."
But there are times when the phone calls have to wait a day.
"I know what I'm like after a loss, so I don't tend to call other people after they've had a loss," Patterson says.
Not that Baylor has to worry much about losses.
"Lately, it's been less about basketball than talking about what they've seen me wearing on TV," Patterson says.
The parents flew to Denver on Saturday morning. Patterson-Heath has been wearing a Baylor warmup jacket around the FSU campus for the last few weeks. Their seats will be pretty good ones, you can count on it. It's a proud moment for both parents, no matter what happens in college basketball's final game of the season.
"Obviously, we're swelled with pride," Heath says. "To see our child advance in this profession and then get to the highest level at its absolute peak, that's basically the ultimate feeling."
Says Patterson-Heath: "It's very, very exciting. I get the opportunity to be a fan. I don't have to coach. I can just enjoy the game and be fanatical about the Baylor Lady Bears."
And now, the Lady Bears have put the finishing touches on a perfect season.
For two parents, though, it already has been.