Hundreds of athletes across Delaware pour everything they have into basketball, working hard at the sport 12 months a year.
Andre Patton is not among that group. He devoted all of his summer and fall to football, starring all over the field at St. Elizabeth and signing a letter of intent to play wide receiver at Rutgers. He had less than a week of practice before the basketball season started.
And then he scored 34 points against A.I. du Pont in the season opener. And he averaged 24.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game for the season. And he was named the state’s boys basketball player of the year in a vote of the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association and the Delaware Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association.
In the fall, Patton was named Delaware’s defensive player of the year in football. St. E football coach Joe Hemphill called Patton the best athlete he has seen in his 40 years at the school. Dick Rago has coached the Vikings’ basketball team for 30 years, and he echoes Hemphill in his sport.
“He’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Rago said. “From all the kids that I have coached and all the kids I’ve coached against, he’s the mostly purely athletic kid I’ve ever been associated with.
“If there’s anybody who could play both sports in college, it’s Andre,” Rago added. “Those two-sport athletes are very rare now.”
It will be football only for Patton at Rutgers. But he received plenty of recruiting interest from basketball coaches early in his high school career.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Patton said he actually favored basketball during his freshman season. But football recruiters came calling in bunches after the wide receiver/defensive back helped the Vikings win the 2010 Division II state championship in football.
“I started getting a lot of looks for football, and all my interest just started going toward football,” Patton said. “I knew what I was going to college for, so I paid more attention to football.”
But he made basketball a pretty decent secondary sport, starting every game for four seasons and finishing as the school’s all-time leader in points (1,637) and rebounds (1,103). For his career, he averaged 18.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. And he did it without fouling.
“He had a great ability to control his body and not charge,” Salesianum coach Brendan Haley said of Patton. “He could really attack but have a way of avoiding plowing over people. … As you tried to get in his way, he had the ability to kind of jump sideways and just jump off your shoulder a little bit and draw the contact without charging.”
Patton hit 37 percent of his 3-point shots this past season but did much of his damage standing still from 15 feet. He constantly got into the lane and drew contact, racking up 233 free-throw attempts (10.6 per game) for the season and shooting 73.8 percent from the line.
“That’s where a lot of my points came from,” Patton said. “If you go to the foul line a lot, eventually they will stop fouling you. If you keep making them at the foul line, that’s just free points.”
The Vikings started the season with one of the state’s youngest rosters and struggled early, leaning on Patton for almost all of the offense. But as the season progressed, sophomores Mike Piekarski and Sheldon Sorrell and senior Ryan Cason began to score more.
“We saw every type of defense that you could possibly see,” Rago said. “You’d see the double- and triple-teams. Toward the end of the year, some of the other boys started putting up bigger numbers. We were able to break down those defenses, and Andre gave up the ball to the open guy.”
The Vikings started 5-6, then reeled off eight straight wins. They finished 14-8, losing at Polytech 68-62 in the second round of the state tournament.
The two games against Salesianum were a measuring stick of St. E’s progress. Sallies easily won 69-57 on Jan. 11. But on Jan. 31, Patton scored 20, Cason added 11 and Sorrell chipped in 10 as the Vikings won, 50-46.
Patton resumed his football workouts as soon as the basketball season ended. He leaves for Rutgers on June 23 but is happy to add one more award to his Delaware trophy case.
“It was a great way to end my high school sports career,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishment.”