Like most college students, Danielle Patterson is finding her footing as she goes.
Only for the Indiana women’s basketball redshirt junior guard/forward, that’s both a figurative and literal process.
The 6-foot-2 Patterson has yet to set foot on the court for the Hoosiers after transferring from Notre Dame a year ago, but 10 days ago she began doing sprints and light jogging for the first time since knee surgery last August as IU began voluntary workouts. She hopes to be fully cleared in another month or so after being sidelined shortly after her tenure as a Hoosier began last summer.
“I think it was just (an injury) from over the years,” Patterson said. “What I had was a cartilage defect in my left knee, so the cartilage just kind of wore down over time. It doesn’t happen on the spur of the moment, like an ACL or MCL where it just pops. It just wears away over time is how the doctor explained it, so it causes your knee to really swell up. Once that happens, any time you go to run or jump, it becomes like a balloon, so I had to go get that fixed.”
That fix meant that not only did Patterson have to sit out her transfer season, she also spent a lot of time in rehab, making the integration process just a little more challenging.
“It’s hard. You really have to come in every day with a positive mindset — that’s the most important thing,” Patterson said. “What the coaches and my other teammates have always told me when they’ve gone through injuries is you have to take one day at a time.
“You’re looking at the long run — that’s where you want to get to — but I had to come in and try to get the little victories. If that meant lifting my leg, getting a 90-degree bend, whatever that meant for that day, I just had to try and go in and do it. Yeah, it was isolating, because I spent a lot of time in rehab when my teammates were on the court, but I knew it was something I had to do and I couldn’t have done it with better teammates and coaches, because they were always right there with me.”
But two years at Notre Dame, playing under veterans on a team that won the 2018 national championship and finished as the 2019 national runner-up, prepared Patterson to do more than put up shots and do ballhandling drills during practices.
“Above anything else, I learned how to be a better teammate,” she said. “We had six freshmen last year, so being on the sideline you don’t want to just stand there and not say anything, plus I had two years of experience previously at Notre Dame. I figured out ways to help them and encourage them, because I know how hard freshman year can be, how hard sophomore year can be.
“… I know a lot of times when people mess up on the court, you have to approach each person differently. I think you learn that being around your teammates. Some people react to screaming and yelling and all that stuff, some people need you to pull them to the side and say, ‘Hey, you can do better.’ That comes with learning your teammates. I think I took that from Notre Dame, and I would want someone to do the same for me if I was in that position, telling me I’m not doing great or telling me what I can do better.”
That approach is one reason why Patterson seems poised to help fill the leadership shoes of lone graduating senior Brenna Wise.
“I do see Dani Patterson as being one of those kids who could slip into the role of being a leader,” IU coach Teri Moren told The Herald-Times this spring. “She had a great temperament and a great pulse on our team as individuals. Just watching her in practice, watching her walk around and talk and communicate with teammates was very special. She stayed very engaged.”
Patterson also has an impressive basketball resume to draw on as top-30 player and McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in 2017 before heading to one of the nation’s elite programs in South Bend.
For all the individual and team success that followed, Patterson didn’t feel like she was where she needed to be after two years at Notre Dame.
In her final season at Notre Dame Patterson appeared in 33 of 39 games, averaging 2.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and shooting 48 percent from the field in 10.6 minutes per outing.
Though she was named the team’s most improved player during ND’s postseason awards program, Patterson’s numbers actually went down from the 2.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, 49 percent shooting and 12.5 minutes she averaged in 33 games as a freshman for the 2017-18 national champions.
Patterson was a sports management major. A sports media class had her starting to look in a different direction academically. The limited playing time and academics played into the decision to transfer and a second time through the recruiting process, albeit in speed-dating fashion, led Patterson to Indiana.
“I think at that point you know what you want and don’t want,” she said. “When you’re doing it for the first time, there are a lot of things you don’t know, especially if you don’t have a brother or sister or someone do it before you. I’m an only child, so that was the first time for my parents doing it, the first time I was doing it.
“I knew what I wanted in a school the second time around. I wanted a place that really cheered you on, where everyone had a common goal, that you had a very family atmosphere with teammates and coaches and someplace you go in every day and have an opportunity to get better, you have the opportunity to work with people who are going to get you where you need to be.”
Patterson, who did some podcast work at Notre Dame, jumped at the chance to become a sports media major while minoring in management at IU, starting by hosting introductory interviews with the freshmen on social media last fall.
Looking back, the affable Patterson now sees a moment in fourth grade that foreshadowed her future, one she was reminded of by her mother recently.
“In fourth grade, I had won a speech contest with one of my other classmates, and we had to recite a poem or something, read a letter, and we got an award for it,” Patterson said, “so I knew I kind of had a gift when it came to speaking and asking people questions and connecting with people that way.
“I had never really thought about it, but the more I thought about it and started to do it, you know you get to hold the mic and sit in front of the camera and all that in classes here, and I thought, ‘This is something I really think I can excel in and I enjoy doing it.’ I enjoy talking to people and hearing people’s stories, whether that’s athletes or just regular people. I get a lot of joy from it, so it’s something I switched to last minute, but I think I made the right choice.”