Torrey Patton is proof.
History does repeat itself.
“I was just hoping I got picked for a team and could show that I could play with them,” he said. “I always wanted to prove myself. I wanted to show that I belonged.”
The 6-foot-5 senior wasn’t talking about his long, confidence-testing journey to Cleveland State, where he was an All Horizon League first team selection this season and five days ago was named the MVP of the league tournament after he lifted the Vikings into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a dozen years.
No, he was talking about hoop dreams from his childhood when he lived on Mineola Court near Olive Road in Trotwood.
He said his mom, Conswela, had gotten a roll-out hoop which they set up near the curb in their cul-de-sac. It became a magnate for his big brother and the older kids in the neighborhood.
“I’d come home from school and want to play, too,” Patton said. “Those guys were all three and four years older than me and they were better.”
It didn’t help that he was a quiet and shy child, someone not given to overt pronouncement.
That was until he got his hands on the basketball. Then he could exert himself and soon he was the star not only of the Mineola court, but eventually at nearby Trotwood Madison High School, where he ended up a 1,000 point scorer, a two-time, first team All Ohio pick and the Division II co-Player of the Year as a senior.
But as has been the case with other Trotwood stars, he was overlooked by many Division I colleges and had not committed to a school when he led the Rams to the state Final Four as a senior.
“Some of it is just his demeanor, his style of play. He doesn’t have that ‘Wow!’ factor that a lot of people use to judge players,” said his dad, Torrence Patton, who had the same nature when he played at Patterson Co-op.
“Torrey’s always been like that. He shows the same emotion if he hits the game-winning shot or not and sometimes that causes you to be overlooked and people don’t see the talent that’s right there in front of them.”
Conswela, now remarried to William McLemore, sensed that too and said she reached out for some help from Wayne High coach Travis Trice, whose two sons have been college stars, Lorenzo Smith and Marjory Thornton, who was an intervention specialist at Trotwood Madison High and the recruiting coordinator of Elite Basketball Training in Moraine.
The trio helped Patton get his name out to colleges and they even did mock interviews with him to get him use to the media.
But Patton’s most forceful statement came in a state tournament semifinal loss to Akron St. Vincent St. Mary when he scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
That prompted University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot to offer a scholarship.
Patton signed with the Zips, but the ink was barely dry when Dambrot announced he was leaving Akron for Duquesne
He offered Patton a chance to follow, but then Akron’s new coach, John Groce, re-recruited him and Torrey decided to remain a Zip.
Although he played in all 32 games that year and made seven starts, Patton averaged just 3.3 points per game and said he felt the new program was not a good fit.
“Torrey was put into a role he’d never played before – the coach wanted him to be more of a rebounder than a scorer – and he lost a lot of confidence that season,” Conswela said.
He decided to transfer and Conswela said she pushed him toward West Virginia State, a Division II HBCU in Institute, WV: “I really liked the coach. He had he come to a lot of Torrey’s games.”
“I was just really confused,” Patton admitted. “I knew I wanted to get back to playing Division I one day and I didn’t realize going to Division II first wasn’t the best path.”
His mom and stepdad drove him to the school and unloaded is belongings, but soon after he was back home for a heartfelt 3 a.m. conversation, Conswela said:
“He said, ‘Mom, I feel like I’m settling. I’m better than that. I know I’m a D-I player. Just because everyone else doesn’t see it, doesn’t mean I can’t see it. I’ve been talking to some junior colleges and they tell me that’s the best route back to D-I.’”
He was especially focused on Indian Hills Community College, a basketball powerhouse in Ottumwa, Iowa that was coached by Hank Plona. The Warriors had a 148-21 record over the past five years and had sent several players on to D-I schools.
“I said, ‘Torrey, if that’s where you want to be then we’re going to Iowa, but first we’re going back down to West Virginia in the morning and you have to go in and explain to the coach why you’re leaving’” Conswela said.
“’I’m not going to do it for you. It’s a decision you made and you have to be a man about it.’
“He did that and the coach wasn’t happy, but then we packed Torrey back up, came home and the next morning we drove to Iowa.
“And as it turned out, Hank Plona was a godsend. Torrey got his confidence back, his game back.”
In his season there, Patton averaged 14.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and earned All-America honors.
Cleveland State coach Dennis Felton offered a scholarship and as soon as he accepted, another trap door suddenly opened beneath him.
A week after he arrived on campus, Felton and his staff were fired.
The Vikings had had four straight seasons with at least 20 losses and some of the remaining players were bailing out and entering the transfer portal.
“A lot of the guys were confused and didn’t know what to expect,” Patton said.
CSU hired Florida State assistant Dennis Gates as the new coach and when he held the first team meeting, only Patton and three other players showed up.
“It was crazy,” Patton remembered. “We didn’t even know if we were going to have a team for the season coming up.”
He said Gates assuaged his fears and told the players there they were important to him and the program. He asked them to give him a chance and they would build something together.
Conswela said she’s heard that Gates got a call from Hank Plano that day:
“Hank told him, ‘You’ve got one of my kids on your team – Torrey Patton – and he will make a difference for you.’”
‘He got it from his Mama’
Patton laughed when asked who’d passed on his athletic genes:
“My mom likes to say it was her, but I don’t think she played any sports.”
Conswela though swatted that thought like she was a towering pivot player and he had just tossed up a soft layup.
Back when she was a Dunbar High student, she said she went out for the football team:
“I didn’t think it was fair that only boys got to play so I signed up. I was the only female and everyone thought I was crazy. I fantasized about being a running back.”
Eventually she skipped practices to go on a family vacation to Florida and that spelled the end to her football experiment.
Undeterred, when Torrey was making his mark in high school, she would wear a special shirt to his games. She laughed when she repeated the proclamation it carried:
“He got it from his Mama!”
She said Torrey already had fallen in love with basketball as a three year old:
“I have a photo of him tossing the ball up in the alley when we lived on Ernst Avenue in Dayton. I was struggling then. I didn’t have money to buy a hoop, but he’d toss the ball around back there.”
Patton’s parents split up when he was 12, but both support his hoops career now and sometimes this year his dad has joined his mom and stepdad and they all watched the games together on ESPN.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Horizon League to prohibit fans from attending games this season, but in normal times, Conswela said she and William don’t miss any of Torrey’s games.
In the stands she waves a big cardboard cutout of his face and she has a new shirt that proudly poses a question across the front:
“Whose son is that?”
A leader for the Vikings
Cleveland State went 11-21 last year in Gates’ first season. This preseason the Vikings were picked to finish seventh in the league. Instead they went 19-7 and shared the regular season title with Wright State.
Gates was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year. Tre Gomillion was named the league’s defensive player of the year and Patton became the first CSU player in six years to win first team all-league honors.
“He’s kind of settled in and he really picked up steam as the season went on,” Torrence said.
Although he averaged 14.9 points per game this season – compared to 11.6 last season – Patton has been especially prolific down the stretch.
Over his last seven games he’s averaged 21.1 points a game and nine rebounds.
He really made his mark in the league tournament.
“I just wanted to be one of the leaders of the team,” he said. “I knew I had a good amount of experience under my belt and had to step up.”
And that’s exactly what he did. He had a double-double in all three of the Vikings’ tournament games and had a rousing performance – 30 points and 13 rebounds, both game highs – in CSU’s triple overtime 108-104 victory over Purdue Fort Wayne in the opener.
“That game was insane,” he said. “It showed our resilience as a team. We were locked in the whole time, almost to where no one was blinking.”
Last Monday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, he had a game-high 14 rebounds and 13 points to lead the Vikings over Milwaukee in the semifinal.
And the following night he had a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds to lift Cleveland State to the title over Oakland.
Afterward, as the confetti fell amidst the hugs and tears and unrestrained joy, Patton said he was getting texts and calls from many people back in the Miami Valley telling him proud they were of him.
At the same time Conswela said she sent a thank you to Plona for helping her son get back on track and end up where he belonged:
“Torrey’s found a home at Cleveland State and he’s found a coach he adores, a coach who lets him play his game.”
Gates has nothing but praise for the way Patton has bought into his plan and he said: “The ironic thing is, he hasn’t played his best basketball yet. This is the first time he’s been in a program two years in row. There’s truly another level he can get to yet.”
That may be true, but both Patton and his mom also are savoring where he’s at right now.
“I didn’t take the ordinary path that other guys have,” he said. “I’ve had some ups and downs. Some times where I was misunderstood and times when things were snatched away.
“It definitely humbled me, but all the struggle has definitely made it more special, too.”
When Conswela hears him talk like that – when she sees him rolling around in the colorful confetti and holding up the championship trophy and tonight, when she sees his unlikely team added to the NCAA Tournament bracket – she has one overriding thought:
“There’s been times this year where I’ve been crying tears of happiness because Torrey has finally found his place.
“My baby has finally made it!”