'Cuda' Patterson, former local hoops standout, dies at 49
Darryl “Cuda'' Patterson, an electrifying guard for the University of South Florida and Robinson High School during the 1980s, died Thursday morning at Tampa General Hospital after a four-year battle with a rare blood disorder. He was 49.
“Cuda was a fighter,'' said Charlie Bradley, Patterson's best friend and former teammate, who remains the all-time leading scorer in USF men's basketball history. “He never let his sickness affect his spirit. He was smiling and laughing until the end. That spirit, it's why everyone loved him.''
According to longtime friend Regina Williams, Patterson was diagnosed in 2009 with POEMS Syndrome, which attacks the nerves, organs and skin. Patterson, once known for his lightning-quick drives to the basket, had to use a walker and wheelchair. Eventually, he was confined to his bed.
“The amazing thing is he never complained,'' Williams said. “But that was him. He might have had some hard times, but he stayed happy.
“Lately, he had been telling me he was tired and looking forward to seeing his family again. He said he was ready to go see Willie Mae.''
Patterson was preceded in death by his mother Willie Mae, father, two brothers and a sister.
Patterson had high-profile highlights at USF, where he averaged 12.0 points and 3.2 assists as a senior in 1984-85. He had a career-high 25 points – on 11-for-16 shooting, with no 3-point line – in a 77-66 NIT home victory against Wake Forest and NBA-bound guard Muggsy Bogues.
He averaged 20 points in two seasons at Florida College, which was the state's No. 1-ranked junior-college team. And as a senior at Robinson, playing with Bradley, he averaged 18.3 points for the state's No. 1-ranked team. The Knights went 24-0 before suffering a first-round upset loss against Leto in the district tournament.
His most notable claim to fame, though? It might have occurred on the playgrounds of Ybor City.
“Cuda was an unstoppable force out there,'' Bradley said.
“Charlie and Cuda went from playground to playground for two-on-two games against all comers,'' former Robinson coach Herman Valdes once said. “Like they were the two fastest guns in the West.''
Patterson said his nickname – “Cuda'' – was originated by a playground leader at Cuscaden Park. She called him “Cuda Brown,'' her uncle's name, because both were fast and sleek, reminiscent of a barracuda. The name stuck.
“He just had the nickname, the look and the game that made him unforgettable,'' said former USF point guard Tommy Tonelli, head coach at Wharton High School. “He was the most unbelievable competitor, as quick as they come, could pull up on a dime, quick release. He made an impression. He was legendary around here.''
Patterson, the last player cut in Chicago Bulls' training camp in 1985, struggled to find his way once basketball ended. He was arrested in 1991 after selling 200 pieces of crack cocaine (valued at $7,500) to an undercover police officer – a federal offense – and received a mandatory 10-year minimum prison sentence.
He served time in six federal prisons before his release in 1999. He was befriended by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who gave him jobs prior to the arrest. Patterson was hired in the maintenance department of then-Legends Field following his release.
“I have no one but myself to blame for what happened,'' Patterson said during an interview in 2000. “I knew I made a mistake. I'm human. I was man enough and am still man enough to accept responsibility for everything I do. The past is dead.''
Funeral arrangements are pending, but will be handled by Aikens Funeral Home in Tampa.