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Patton won't rest until he nets a national title

With the sun shining bright over the Appleton Tennis Center on Tuesday afternoon, Greg Patton surveyed the beautiful campus facility his success constructed.

With hip-hop music blaring, Patton worked out with his nationally ranked Boise State men’s tennis team, volleying with players he recruited away from perennial tennis powers in the Pac-10 and the Southeastern conferences.

With the WAC Championships headed to Boise this weekend, Patton could have reveled in all that he has accomplished.

Instead, the 53-year-old spent much of the afternoon discussing the things he still has left to do.

There are the improvements to the facility, like a big electronic scoreboard and a booming stereo system. There is the continued promotion of the BSU program, hoping to turn on the entire community to collegiate tennis.

And then there’s the one goal that stands out as greater than all the others combined.

Patton wants to coach BSU to a national championship.

“If I die and don’t have a national championship, I’m going to be pissed at the Lord and tell Him to send me back,” Patton said.

Given Patton’s record in creating a perennially successful program in Boise, it’s not completely out of the question that the good Lord would acquiesce.

Still Patton doesn’t plan on letting it get to that point. He wants to win what he calls “the race,” and become the first BSU team to win a national championship at the highest NCAA level.

The Broncos, who advanced to the quarterfinals in 1997during Patton’s first stint, have reached the second round of the 64-team NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years.

This year, the Broncos are ranked No. 29 and expected to earn a spot in the national tournament. BSU can secure its spot by winning the WAC title for the third time in four years.

Still, isn't it a long way from No. 29 to NCAA champion?

"We're so close to it. It's like you're standing on the beach and the water isn't quite lapping up to your toes, but it's really close," Patton said.

If the Broncos don't reach the pinnacle this season, there's plenty of reason for optimism in the future. Three of this year's top four players — No. 1 Luke Shields (sophomore), No. 3 Clancy Shields (freshman) and No. 4 Eric Roberson (sophomore) — are underclassmen. Kean Feeder, ranked No. 2 nationally in the Boys' 18, is sitting out the season because of an eligibility dispute with the NCAA.

That core represents the best chance Patton has had to achieve his outrageous goals.

"I want this to be the center of the collegiate tennis universe," he said.

As loony as it sounds — tennis is, after all, a sport that flourishes in locales with warm and sunny weather nearly year-round — Patton's passion can be quite convincing. He has persuaded some of the top American juniors to come to Boise and his unorthodoxed philosophy and coaching style resonate with his players.

In 60 minutes Tuesday afternoon, Patton invoked Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner, the cartoon character Underdog, "Lord of the Rings," "Spy Kids," "Babes in Toyland," "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," the Taj Mahal, Clint Eastwood, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson and Jack Bauer of television's "24." His players practiced to MC Hammer's classic '90s rap song, "You Can't Touch This."

Such irreverence does little to hide the burning desire Patton has to accomplish his goals.

"Don't ever be shy about what your dream is," Patton said.

With his bold national championship predictions, Patton might have bitten off more than he can chew.

But no one is going to convince him to stop chewing — or dreaming.