COLUMBUS – Kiki Patterson believes she is making a statement by staying in state and playing for Mississippi State.
The Columbus High School guard would like to think she has begun a trend that other girls basketball players in Mississippi will follow.
Patterson signed a scholarship to play with coach Vic Schaefer and the Lady Bulldogs on Friday morning in the school gymnasium.
MSU wasn't Patterson's first choice. She had talked about going to South Carolina, but Schaefer sold her on the vision he has for the Lady Bulldogs and she had a change of heart.
"I thought I was going to be a Gamecock for a long time," Patterson said. "Never in a million years did I think I would be a Bulldog. They gradually won me over.
"I wasn't going to State, but when the new coaching staff came in, it changed my whole view on State. They recruited me hard and let me know that I needed to stay in state and play for my state."
Schaefer and his staff sold Patterson on being the first building block to something special at MSU.
Patterson likes the idea of being the leader of the next wave of Lady Bulldogs who can make a difference in the program.
"(Schaefer) said by me staying in state, that it was going to set up younger girls behind me," Patterson said. "They will see that Kiki stayed in state so we will stay in state. I know I have a lot of younger girls looking up to me in high school basketball, so by me getting it started, hopefully they will follow and realize there's nothing wrong with staying in state."
Patterson said the recruiting process was "long and stressful," and even though she had built a relationship with South Carolina, the school she first considered understood her situation and still supports her.
Columbus athletic director Rusty Greene knew that Patterson was being pursued heavily by the Lady Gamecocks, but was glad to see her join what may be something positive developing with Schaefer at the helm at Mississippi State.
"I know her heart was somewhere else and talked about somewhere else, but when the new coach came in, there was a connection and it seemed to be the right fit," Greene said. "We're very proud of her and she's worked hard. It brings a lot of recognition to our program. Our girls basketball program has been solid for the last four years and she's been a big part of that."
Lady Falcons coach Yvonne Hairston said Patterson's signing with MSU is very important to the school and community.
"It's an honor to have her play at Mississippi State," Hairston said. "It also gives us a chance to travel 20-25 minutes, depending on how fast you drive, to get over to see her. She will have that support from the Columbus crowd.
"We're excited because the SEC is probably the best conference in our nation. Anytime you have the opportunity to play on that level, it's great. She's excited and I know she will be an asset to their program."
Patterson is projected to be a point guard for the Lady Bulldogs, which is a very important position in Schaefer's defensive-oriented system.
It's a challenge that Patterson accepts with full intention of making it work.
"It's going to be hard work, but even with the transition from middle school to high school, I did what I had to do to get the job done, so I'm taking that same mindset to State," Patterson said. "I'm going to do what I need to do to be on the court. They are signing me, so I've got to step up and play."
Hairston said Patterson is a playing that has improved every year for Columbus.
Last season for Lady Falcons, Patterson averaged 20.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, three steals and three assists per game. She helped Columbus to a 25-3 record and to the Class 6A North State semifinals.
Patterson, who averaged 27.3 points per outing as a sophomore, went from shooting guard to point guard last year and continues in that role for the Lady Falcons this season to get prepared for MSU.
Schaefer is happy about landing, who he calls "the best player in the state of Mississippi."
"We saw Kiki play last week, and watching her competitiveness and will to win was exciting," Schaefer said in a statement. "She competes to the very last play, and she has a presence on the floor that is required out of the point guard position."
The only stumbling block Hairston sees for Patterson at the next level is her size.
"The girls are getting so much taller, especially in the arena she is getting ready to play in an SEC program," Hairston said. "I tell her all the time that she's got to be smarter than they are and more physical. That's the only thing that challenges her."