RANTOUL – When Chris Wagner speaks of the remarkable growth of Rantoul senior Tyler Patterson, feel free to take the Eagles basketball coach's words literally or figuratively.
When Wagner first laid eyes on Patterson, the then-sixth-grader was a pint-sized 5-foot-4.
"He used to be real little," the third-year Rantoul head coach and former J.W. Eater Junior High coach said. "He was kind of a thinner kid. But he's grown up."
Up to 6-foot-3, in fact. But it's the growth this season of the Eagle guard's game – and all that goes into it – that Wagner finds most impressive.
"From Day 1 to now, you haven't seen a kid grow more than Tyler," he said. "Attitude, behavior, skills, thinking, playing hard. The whole thing, he's improved."
You'd never know it to see Patterson now, but for years he was largely a one-dimensional player who came off the bench when his teams needed instant offense.
"He was the kind of kid that came in and made a bunch of threes or missed them and went and sat back down," Wagner said. "If he was on, he played a lot. If he didn't, he didn't play as much."
That began to change last season, when Patterson increasingly made the most of his chances. By mid-January, his play convinced Wag-ner he deserved to start.
"He got to the point where he was beating people out, and he hasn't looked back since," the Rantoul coach said.
Patterson ended up averaging 10.7 points a game, a fraction behind team leader Greg Cannon. And his arrow continues to point upward. Through the Eagles' first 19 games this season, Patterson averaged a team-high 15.7 points while shooting 47 percent, including 41 percent from three-point range.
Improvement is evident in other areas. The same guy who attempted three free throws last season now gets to the line more than any other Eagle (he's 34 of 50) thanks to a newfound aggressiveness in driving to the hoop. Though not the tallest Eagle, he leads his team in rebounds (73). And his sense of anticipation on defense can disrupt any attack.
"He's maybe not as strong on the ball," Wagner said, "but off the ball he's very good defensively with help defense and picking off steals and picking up a guy who's cutting to the basket and getting a blocked shot or a deflection or changing the guy's attack."
It's no coincidence, say Patterson and Wagner, that the senior's game took a major leap after some tutelage last summer from a former Eagle. Patterson joined his brother, ex-Loyola University standout Blake Schilb, in workouts at the Chicago school and in Rantoul.
"He helped me with post moves and with my shot," Patterson said. "He helped me a lot on my jumping, my legs. I could barely dunk last year, and I can dunk now."
Said Wagner: "He helped Tyler develop his dribble moves and shooting off the dribble. That's been a big key for him this year, to shoot off the dribble. And he changed his shot a little bit. He used to have kind of a flat shot that didn't have a lot of spin on it. It's still a little bit like that, but it's a lot better. "
Schilb now is in the Czech Republic, playing pro ball and, according to his brother, missing their mom's cooking. But the impact of those summer hours in the gym with big brother remains evident on this side of the Atlantic. Even at crunch time.
"He used to be passive," Wagner said. "He'd give the ball to someone else. Now he's stepping up and taking those shots. He's much more confident."