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Feature: Raptors' Patrick Patterson 'very thankful' of rookie year with Yao
Last Updated: 2016-04-06 14:05 | Xinhua
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In his sixth year in the NBA, forward Patrick Patterson has played an integral role for the second place Toronto Raptors. His strong work ethic and defence-first mentality has helped the team win a franchise-best 52 games with five games remaining in the season.

For Patterson, he credits former teammate and soon-to-be 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Yao Ming as an influential figure for his development as an individual.

Following Tuesday night's 96-90 victory over Charlotte Hornets, Patterson spent time in an exclusive interview with Xinhua to talk about Yao's impact on his life.

Born and raised in Washington D.C., the 27-year-old Patterson spent three seasons in the University of Kentucky and graduated with a communications degree. In June 2010, he was selected 14th overall in the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, the team anchored by Yao.

"I remember the first day I met Yao when I stepped on the practice court, you never really know (how tall he is) until you stand next to him," said the 2.06-meter Patterson. "Literally his butt is right where my chest is."

Before playing any regular season games with Houston, Patterson found himself part of a growing phenomenon: the NBA in China. In October 2010, the Rockets squared off against New Jersey Nets in two exhibition games in Beijing and Guangzhou to continue the exponential growth of basketball outside of North America.

"It was just an unbelievable experience. The trips that we had in China and just seeing the impact that he had on those people over there," said Patterson. "Seeing how those people interacted with him, worshipped him and had so much love and passion for him."

"Wherever he goes, he draws attention from Chinese fans," Patterson added. "Millions of people watching him, following the Rockets and even more teams in the NBA. Next thing you know, the NBA's numbers are going up all because of what Yao was able to do."

The experience with Yao would be short lived as the eight-time All-Star Starter played only five games in Patterson's rookie season. Those would be his final NBA games as he announced his retirement at the end of the season.

"I am very thankful that my first year was his last year with the Houston Rockets and all the things that he taught me and showed me," said Patterson.

Patterson credits Yao as the sole reason for earning his shoe sponsorship with Chinese-based sporting company, Peak.

"My shoe deal was courtesy of Yao," said Patterson. "His ability to spread the game of basketball and NBA over to China and the recognition that caused for us in Houston allowed me to get my Peak shoe deal."

During his shoe deal, which is now expired, Patterson was able to explore a part of the world he wouldn't have imagined visiting.

"Since 2010, I went back (to China) every year for 3 or 4 years. I made an effort to hit up not just the major cities," said Patterson. "Just seeing the people out there, seeing the smiles on their faces when they see basketball players."

The experiences in China has changed Patterson's life and he hopes other youngsters on the Raptors are open to travelling to a foreign part of the world like he was.

"It was a great experience. I tell the rookies on this team is to try to travel the world," said Patterson. "You need to embrace the culture and see how another side of the world lives."

Patterson will be forever grateful to Yao, who will be officially enshrined into the Hall of Fame in September.

"It's well deserved, long overdue. I wish it could have happened years ago," said Patterson. "Me as a player, being able to play alongside him, I am definitely proud and happy for him."

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