Meet Ayanna Patterson, The Next Candace Parker | ClutchPoints

Meet Ayanna Patterson, The Next Candace Parker

By Calvin Fong

Ayanna Patterson started the camera. Just in case.

The slam dunk is a rare sighting in women’s basketball. In the WNBA, only seven players have dunked in league history. In college hoops, only eight women have done it - ever. Yet Patterson, a high school junior at the time, still wanted a few harmless attempts at the local gym.

She took off like a gazelle - her long strides eating up hardwood. Using her speed and momentum, she loaded up both feet and rocketed straight up. At that moment, slicing through both air and stereotypes.

And threw it down.

Ayanna was so shocked that she had trouble processing what just happened.

In fact, her first instinct wasn’t to celebrate or even post the video on social media. It was to send it to one of her biggest supporters in life: her dad. And he promptly had her dunk five more times to prove it was legit.

The dunk eventually made its rounds on social media. Fans and players across the country watched in awe of the 6-3 high school girl who could dunk off two feet.

After the video surfaced in 2020, she started to get recognized in public. She was stopped for photos and autographs. Local stations even featured her on the news. She became known as the high school girl who could dunk.

But Ayanna Patterson is so much more.

Her story begins with her family -- all of whom were star athletes. Ayanna’s brother played college basketball for UCLA and Tennessee. Her dad played professionally for the CBA’s Fort Wayne Fury. And her mom was an All-State track star.

This is how Patterson grew to love running at an early age. Track was her sport, despite growing up around the game of basketball. Her brother, Andre Patterson Jr., is 20 years older. And as a kid, Ayanna loved to watch him play ball.

“I got to see him play at Tennessee and UCLA,” Patterson told ClutchPoints. “That was really cool for me just to see him develop as a player and develop in life.”

Her dad, Andre Sr., was coaching middle school basketball at the time. And as early as four or five years old, she was accompanying him to practices.

But she never considered basketball her sport. It was merely her brother’s or her dad’s. She was on the path of a track star.

Until middle school arrived. And with it - a significant life change.

In the 6th grade, Ayanna played with an AAU basketball team for a weekend. She hadn’t been able to do much AAU ball in the past, with track running most of her life. But it was here that she started to fall in love with the hardwood.

In the 7th grade, she decided to give basketball a full go. But when she told her dad she intended to switch sports, it wasn’t a big deal just yet.

“She had some really good youth coaches who made her like the game,” her father revealed. “She just started going to more basketball workouts. So I didn’t really pay too much attention to it, to be totally honest.”

But it wouldn’t be long before he, and others, took notice.

Even at a young age, Ayanna’s work ethic was unmatched. She was self-motivated, driven, and passionate about everything she did. Her dad never had to tell her to do her homework. Instead, he had to remind her to take breaks.

That was the drive and passion that helped Patterson’s 7th grade AAU team get to Nationals. It was that trip to Tennessee - with friends she’d grown up with and a game she’d adopted as her own - that she still calls her favorite basketball memory to this day.

For the first time, she realized that she might actually be good - possibly even great - at the game she’d been around for so long. And after that, she took off.

Instead of taking the track, Ayanna was now hitting the gym. Hours spent improving her speed turned into hours spent improving her strength. She needed to be stronger for a sport that valued physicality over speed. 

There was a gym at the nearby McMillen Park, and Ayanna went with her dad often. She learned to fall in love with the weight room, working out a couple of times a day, every day. 

Motivation was never an issue. She was the one asking her dad to go to the gym more. She was the one who wanted to attend more basketball workouts. 

She was not only driven by her own will, but also by a competitive desire to be the best in her family. Growing up, she was often just known as Andre’s sister, since her brother held multiple basketball records in Indiana. 

And she considered him her archnemesis. He was the one she’d try to beat. He was the one she’d try to overtake.

But soon, Patterson started making a name for herself. This was her sport now. And the outside world started to pay attention.

She was 13 years old when Indiana University believed she could become something special, offering her a Division 1 scholarship before she even stepped foot on a high school floor.

With uncanny speed, smooth ball-handling, and unrelenting post moves, her limitless potential was too enticing to pass up. Indiana wouldn’t be the only one to come calling.

Her legend only grew as she entered the grueling world of high school basketball.

When Ayanna was younger, it was easy to be content with what she’d done in a game. When the second half rolled around, and she had already built up an impressive stat line, it was human nature to relax and let up.

But when she entered high school, she knew her mindset needed to change.

Always be hungry. Engaged. Locked in. If she had 20, go for 30. If she had 30, go for 40. 

In her freshman year at Homestead High, Ayanna rode that mentality and showed flashes of brilliance. She posted six double-doubles en route to averaging 12.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. Her new career-high was set in Homestead’s regular season finale, as she tallied 28 points.

Patterson is a quiet soul, choosing to put her head down and let her game and work ethic do the talking. But even she couldn’t hide the enormous potential brewing in Fort Wayne. 

Even after just one year, she started to cement herself as one of the best players in the state.

At this point, Ayanna held 13 Division I scholarship offers, including Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State, and South Carolina. 

But it was Patterson’s junior year where she took the leap.

Heading into the season, her main goal was to be consistent every night - to finally become the Spartans’ primary weapon on offense. It was a role that Homestead head coach Rod Parker needed her to step into.

But an increased role on the court came with increased pressure off it.

Key seniors had departed, and Ayanna was now an upperclassman. The quiet Patterson had always elected to lead by example. Now, her influence needed to be both seen and heard.

“I really talk to my teammates on the court,” Patterson said, on her growth in leadership. “I try to get them to be tough on defense. Our biggest motto is try to communicate on the floor in order to win games.”

Ayanna became the model of that motto. 

She made it a personal goal to be more vocal to her teammates. Remind them to stay humble after a win. Be encouraging after a loss. 

“She took charge not only vocally,” Coach Parker remembered, “but just how she plays, how hard she plays, and being positive with her teammates.”

Her influence was on full display after the Spartans suffered crushing losses back-to-back - both at the buzzer. It was the first time Homestead had lost two games in a row since 2012. Even the always-positive Coach Parker admitted he was frustrated. 

But a calm Ayanna Patterson offered some perspective.

She encouraged her teammates, reminding them this was a learning opportunity. She emphasized paying attention to small details - the deciding factors when games go down to the wire. 

The team listened and responded. They won their next game, finishing strong the rest of the year.

Through all the ups and downs, Ayanna kept the focus on the team and not herself. In post-game interviews, she rarely talked about her accomplishments. 

“She does a great job of deferring to her teammates and what her team did,” Coach Parker said. “And I think that’s a great attribute to a great person and also a great player… She respects what they’ve done to positively impact her life.”

On the court, Ayanna positively impacted theirs. The paint was her playground all season long. She was aggressive and, most of all, consistent - averaging 21.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 blocks. 

No one could stop her.

Her impressive season came with a signature performance. In a win over South Side, she dropped a career-high 43 points, setting the Homestead High record for most points in a game. Even Coach Parker, watching from the bench, could only sit back and enjoy the show.

“She completely took the game over. From making threes to getting to the line or the mid-range. There was really nobody on the court that could guard her… Thank goodness she plays for us.”

Performances like that were followed by a plethora of accolades. Patterson was named to the Indiana Junior All-Star team, to the All-State First Team, and to the IBCA Underclass All-State Supreme 15. 

Her new leadership role, mixed with her on-court dominance, translated into a 20-6 record, a sectional title, and a trip to the 4A regional final. Homestead, though, lost in the regional Elite Eight - which was as far as they’d gotten in each of Ayanna’s previous two seasons.

If ever there were questions about her fame on the national level though, ESPN answered them. The sports conglomerate ranked her as the number three player in the nation in the entire 2022 class. 

Ayanna, though, chooses not to listen to the noise.

“It doesn’t really mean anything,” she described. “You can be ranked top of your class one time and then have a bad game. And you go back to the bottom. It doesn’t really mean anything to me because you just have to produce every night to win games.”

Her dad reiterated the sentiment, always reminding his daughter to keep working.

“That's people putting numbers by kids,” he expressed. “That’s somebody else's opinion of you, and you're not defined by anybody else's opinion of you. You just have to continue to work hard because at your age, you have a lot of growing and developing to do. And you're not a finished product.”

While Ayanna is far from finished, her father still beams with pride, but not just from her basketball accomplishments. 

He’s more proud of her for being diligent in school, and being a National Honor Society student, than he is of her sports achievements. Basketball will fade, he tells her. But having a strong work ethic and building character - those matter much, much more to him.

It’s fitting, then, that Ayanna’s favorite superhero is Batman. 

“He really doesn’t have a super ability,” she explained. “Basically it’s his heart that makes him a superhero.”

The same applies to the 6-foot-3 basketball superstar.

Off the court, she sports a warm smile, a kind heart, and a welcoming personality. And on the court, Ayanna transforms into her alter ego.

Embrace the superhero within, her mother used to tell her when she was young. That’s the mentality Ayanna takes when she steps onto the hardwood. 

When she was little, she looked up to Candace Parker and Kevin Durant. She saw how KD carried himself: quiet, hard-working, focused. She saw how Candace Parker was able to effortlessly balance being a WNBA star with all of her off-court ventures - whether she was dominating on the court or gracing the cover of a magazine.

Both Durant and Parker were her role models as a kid. She modeled her game after them, and they are still two of her favorite players to watch.

But with her dominant play on the court, Ayanna, herself, is being compared to the greats.

Patterson’s AAU coach, Richard Jeter of Ohio United, made the argument that Ayanna is the best athlete in all of women’s basketball. That Ayanna can dunk off two feet, can control a game in the post, and also be a track star - is unheard of. 

Homestead coach Rod Parker believed she’s unguardable. “It’s a very well-rounded game,” Parker described. “You try and defend her guard skills, and she can post you up. Try to defend her inside, and she can stretch you out away from the basket.”

In an interview with the Connecticut Post, Jeter went so far as to call Ayanna’s game a mix of Giannis and LeBron. She can rebound, score, take it coast to coast - and no one’s stopping her.

The comparison to NBA icons isn’t mere exaggeration. When Patterson gets out on a fast break, she’ll hit her opponent with a Euro step - one of her signature moves. With her size and speed, it’s reminiscent of the unstoppable finishing moves of Giannis. When she spins in the lane to lose a defender, it’s reminiscent of the unguardable drive-and-spin from LeBron.

That kind of explosiveness was developed over the years in high school, and Coach Rod Parker had a front-row seat.

“When she came in as a freshman, she was very athletic. Had a lot of direct line drives to the basket,” Parker shared. “The finesse, the patience, is a big thing she’s developed and just an overall skill set that allows you to play around the basket. To face the basket, play in the open court, and to grow into a really mature defender who can guard pretty much anybody.”

As Patterson continues to grow, she has an eye on the future.

After her junior year, Ayanna finally made her college decision. She chose to play for legendary coach Geno Auriemma at UConn, one of the winningest schools in women’s college hoops. The storied program has sent many, many players to the WNBA, and Patterson hopes to be next.

Her future goals are fairly straightforward, albeit lofty. Win a regional title with Homestead, win an NCAA title with UConn, and be the number one overall pick in the WNBA Draft. While ludicrous for nearly anyone else, those high standards may be attainable for Ayanna, who will only improve her game more heading into her senior year.

On the court, she wants to complete an already well-rounded skill set.

“I can create my own lane going to the basket. But then adding to it the pull-up,” Patterson explained. “You always have a chance to work on every part of your game. The major thing is my jumpshot.”

The rest of her game, though, was good enough for her to represent the United States. In 2021, she was one of four players under 18 named to Team USA’s U18 3x3 World Cup team. In August, Patterson and company traveled to Hungary to battle girls from all over the world. Ayanna helped them finish it off with a gold medal, right as her senior year began. 

True to her nature, as soon as she arrived back home, she wanted to be in school the very next morning. She was even studiously working on homework while in Hungary - a feat not often seen from a high schooler on an overseas trip. 

Her dad wasn’t surprised, emphasizing how she’s always been committed to working hard in all facets - not just in basketball. 

“So I bought her a car,” he recalled. “I'm thinking most teenagers, if it was me, I'm going to drive around and show my friends my new car. [She] drove home and started doing her homework and got ready for school… That’s just the person she is.”

That’s what her trainer, Tyler Palmer of Parkview Sports Medicine, noticed too. For the past three years, Palmer has worked with Ayanna three times a week. Through rain, shine, offseasons, holidays, and injuries. They’d meet for strength and conditioning sessions three times a week without fail.

As skilled and talented as she was already, Patterson didn’t take her skill set for granted. She told Outside the Huddle that she knows there’s always someone out there working harder than her.

But it might be a tall order to find that someone working harder than her.

Palmer realized quickly that her work ethic was unmatched for kids her age. Ayanna’s consistency was something that Palmer hadn’t seen from anyone else he’s worked with. She’s the one always asking him when they can train next. 

Even through injuries.

In her sophomore year, Patterson suffered an MCL sprain early in the season. For most athletes, a major injury meant rest and recovery over the next several weeks. But as soon as Ayanna got the MRI on her leg, her first question to Tyler was if she could still do upper body training, or even have sessions centered around her one good leg.

Her relentless drive had produced results. When she first started training with Palmer, she had a 25-inch vertical. Three years later, she’s up to 32 inches. When she was a freshman, she had trouble with pull-ups. Now, she can do 5 pull-ups with 40-pound weights attached to her body. 

Not to mention deadlifting 350 pounds.

As a professional trainer, Palmer has seen testing numbers for over 1,000 female athletes every year. But Ayanna’s numbers are unparalleled across the board. He believes she’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

And the area she’s improved in the most isn’t even part of her skill set.

“Her confidence continues to grow,” Palmer explained. “She’s starting to see the game a little bit better and understand the game from a basketball IQ standpoint… People have to throw two or three girls at her every game to try and keep her from scoring 40 or 50 points.” 

But for all of her basketball achievements, for all of her Division I scholarships, her accolades, and her growing fame - Ayanna’s upright character is still what shines the most.

Palmer thought back to a 12-year-old girl who started training with him. She wanted to work with him not just because of Tyler’s skills as a strength coach, but because the great Ayanna Patterson trained at the same facility.

One day, that young girl was there working out - unknowingly on the same day Ayanna was scheduled to come in. So, Tyler called up his star client.

“‘Hey, can you get here like 10 minutes early? So you can meet this girl?’” Palmer recollected. “She's like, ‘Oh yeah, no problem.’ So she shows up early. And she talks to this girl, takes a picture with her. And this girl was just beaming because she got to meet Ayanna Patterson. [Ayanna] doesn't think she's too good for things.”

Even amongst her peers, she doesn’t put herself on a pedestal. Coach Parker applauded her team-first mentality. “She’s such a great teammate. And she really enjoys her team’s success. And I think that makes her special because she definitely has the superstar label every night she goes out. But she’s really okay sharing that with her teammates.”

Her true character may be more clearly seen away from the rigors of high school basketball - in the small confines of the McMillen Park Community Center.

There, where her dad works, Ayanna visits every day. She volunteers her time to spend it with the kids. Play with them. Talk to them. Walk them to the swimming pool.

She is still a superstar, though. The staff members there have pictures of Ayanna, as she’s a local legend in Indiana. 

But at the Center, she’s just a big kid. Even five and six-year-olds get in on the fun. When they ask to play with her - no matter how much she has to do that day - she takes the time to go out back and shoot some hoops with them.

One day in August, Ayanna was preparing to leave for Hungary in the FIBA U18 3x3 World Cup. She was working out on a court when a young boy - about five years old - wanted to play with her and learn what she was doing. Even as a top high school player in the nation, practicing to represent Team USA, Ayanna didn’t send him away.

That’s not who she is. Instead, she welcomed him. She paused her workout to teach him some of her moves.

“She doesn’t have a cocky bone in her body,” her dad revealed.

That may have come, in part, from Andre Sr., himself. He always makes it a point to preach humility and perspective. “God first, education second, and basketball’s third,” he’d tell her.

“You’ll never be defined by one sport. Your character defines you.”

Like Ayanna’s favorite superhero, who she is at her core is not characterized by her powers or abilities on the court. It’s not that she can destroy opponents in the post, or overwhelm them with her speed. 

It’s not that she can drop 43 in a game, or even that she can dunk.

Because Ayanna Patterson is so much more.

It’s her heart that truly defines her. Because of it, she’s already a superhero.

And her story is just getting started.