“It’s tough because every year you have to come back and fight for the same position that you had the year before and know you can play well in,” said Trinity College men’s squash senior Nku Patrick (San Fernando, Trinidad). “But coming from the Caribbean where it’s smaller and squash isn’t as big, I’m playing for everyone back home who may look up to me. It keeps me grounded and focused every single time I step on the court.”
For Patrick, a native of San Fernando, Trinidad, the challenge of retaining a starting spot for the Bantams is something he relishes. The senior has enjoyed a successful four-year career on the squash courts, compiling a 38-4 career record, the second-most wins of any Bantam on the roster. His journey to Hartford and his time in a Bantam uniform has seen plenty of success but is not without a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. Year in and year out, he must win a starting spot to try and help the squad return to the Potter Trophy championship. His work ethic, leadership – and contagious smile – help make his story a successful one. “He’s been a real delight to have in the program and it has been really neat watching him grow up,” says Head Coach Paul Assaiante (24th season). “He’s a feel-good story.”
Patrick came to the United States from Trinidad, having enjoyed a successful career on the individual circuit as well as representing his country. He came to Trinity thanks in part to Men’s Squash Assistant Coach Chris Binnie, who also hails from the Caribbean, as well as his older brother, Mandela, who took his talents to Harvard.
“Our assistant coach is from Jamaica and my brother had just applied to college, so I had a feeling that I would apply to college in the United States too,” says Patrick. “I saw Binnie at the Pan-American games in Mexico and he asked me if I was going to apply to college or not. A month later, the process started and I eventually ended up here.”
As fate would have it, the brothers squared off in a January 2016 match that pitted the top-ranked Bantams versus the No. 3-ranked Crimson. Nku came out on top with a 3-0 victory in the No. 9 spot. “My brother is a tall talker,” laughs Nku. “Every time we’ve played, he will call me two weeks before and talk trash. I always talk trash back. But once we’re on the court, it’s brotherly competition. It’s always great to have that competitive fun within the family.”
Having his brother go to college in the states helped ease Patrick’s transition, however, he had little difficulty adjusting to life on a college campus. “It wasn’t too drastic of a change because I have family in America and have been here before. The environment here [on campus] is definitely different and I had to get used to some culture changes, but it was smoother than I expected. Coach Assaiante really helped make it a great fit and helped make the transition easier.”
“Nku was a wonderful young rising star in Trinidad,” adds Coach Assaiante. “He’s always been a very good squash player but his journey has been much different. When he found his own voice as a person in our own community, we have learned a lot from him.”
Aside from cultural differences, Patrick had to adjust to the differences in playing on the national level versus the collegiate level.
“It’s so totally different. When you’re home, you play individually but you also play for your country. Somehow though, when you come to college here it’s the almost the same, but there’s added pressure. You play for your team and there’s another level of pressure to play for your team and win for your teammates.”
The pressure has not seemed to affect Patrick who is currently leading the team with a perfect, 15-0 record this season. As valuable as he has been on the court for Trinity, his leadership has evolved over the last four years and has helped pull a talented team back towards another national championship push.
“He challenges you. He makes people around you better,” says Coach Assaiante. “He’s a wonderful athlete. He’s one of those athletes that makes you think when you see him play, ‘Oh I can do that’… but you can’t. His leadership style is pretty much the way he looks at life. He’s not willing to accept things in a tidy little box. He looks at things from all angles and he wants you to look at things from all angles. We have been lucky to have him and I think he has grown a lot during his time.”
“When I was a freshman I had a great group of seniors who showed me how to go about training,” Patrick explains, talking about the evolution of his leadership. “I wouldn’t be the player I am without their guidance. I’m not a person to try and tell people what to do but instead, try and show them through my actions and how I go about things.”
The Bantams ranked No. 2 in the country, will enter the Potter Trophy Tournament with a 14-2 overall record and have once again set themselves up with a strong chance at adding to their collection of hardware. For Patrick, the tournament also means a final chapter in a career that has seen plenty of triumphs.
“The last four years, we have experienced both winning and losing. People didn’t think we would lose freshman year but we lost in the semifinals. We have that experience and are able to learn from it. Once the national championship tournament starts, it’s a new season. But when you reach that moment and realize you are national champions, there is no better feeling in the world than that.”