When every high school senior signs on the dotted line to play major Division I college basketball, the thoughts immediately flutter to the NBA. Some view it as a required one-year pit stop; others the holdover may be longer, but still see themselves bolting early for a career of riches.
Anyone who denies those thoughts is lying. Sean Kilpatrick felt that way. One of his goals for this season was to become the latest Bearcats player drafted by the NBA.
Prior to the team's postseason banquet Wednesday he announced he'd be returning to Cincinnati for his redshirt senior season.
To some, this would seem an easy decision. After all, the NBA consensus was he would be a second-round pick at best. But look around college basketball, unwise decisions by underclassmen are occurring on a nightly basis. The temptation for a young man to jump toward his dream on a personal timetable and leave the life of struggling college student behind is strong. For the country's fiercest competitors to admit they aren't yet good enough can be debilitating.
That's why so many jump early -- ill-advised, stubborn. It's happened before at UC as well as every other major program in America.
Place Mick Cronin in the camp viewing this as an easy decision for Kilpatrick. Not necessarily because the evidence insisted this decision be his best choice - which it clearly is. No, he viewed this as an easy decision because he knew Kilpatrick would be mature enough to understand reality and make the logical, informed call.
Maturity comes as much a part of the Sean Kilpatrick Package as the split-second release. He sees the bigger picture, listens closely to trusted voices and embraces betting on his own work ethic. In an age of college basketball where mentioning pursuit of a degree is more often used as a punchline than point of emphasis, he stands as a rare breed of character.
"I don't really sit here and worry about the NBA because it's going to always be there," said Kilpatrick, who averaged 17.0 points per game last season. "I am just focused on making myself better as a person. That's being more responsible than I am and taking care of my school stuff and getting that degree. That comes first. Being able to sit here and get my degree and hang that paper up on my mom's wall when she gets her house, that's more important than anything."
Kilpatrick spent most nights wide awake the last two weeks. His says his father would be up to go to the bathroom at 3 a.m., only to pass his son wide awake in the house. Confusion over his decision and the process kept his mind buzzing all hours.
After sitting down for a long conversation with Cronin, the truth of his situation became apparent. Part of what has made this coach not only a great asset to the university, but universally beloved by his current and former players, is his ability to put the facts of the case on the table and let the decision fall in the hands of the player with fully support of his coach every step of the way.
In many ways, that made all the difference for the two-time Second-Team All-Big East guard.
"My final conversation with coach was the most important one," Kilpatrick said. "That was something that really meant the most because for him to say the things he said and for me knowing that he's here for me throughout everything and every decision I do make, knowing he's here for me throughout everything that meant the most."
Cronin couldn't help but smile when telling reporters his top scorer had news for them. The smile comes as much because of the player he is on the court as the person he's become in being able to make a decision that looks beyond the short-term satisfaction so common with today's youth.
"The key word is maturity, which has really been the case with Sean his whole career," Cronin said. "The issue is expectations. The thing we talked about is trying to have enough maturity to look at what's the worst possible scenario? You have to work for a living. He has a daughter, you want to be able to tell your daughter you worked for your degree. How much that means to his parents."
In many ways, this decision wasn't about basketball. It was about life and figuring out what type of son, father, friend and role model he wants to be.
"As driven as SK is, trust me, (the NBA) was his goal this year," Cronin said. "But he's mature enough to realize the benefits of improving, getting his degree, continuing to improve. In life, whether you play in the NBA or not, that's not what this is about. Yes, that's your goal but that can't be the end-all, be-all for your life."
Kilpatrick's life moves on now with an excitement over leading a promising group of young, athletic players during his final season. He can chase down the top scorers in the history of the university. He can enjoy preseason accolades cascading from all angles. He can focus on improving his level of play, as he has every season at UC to move from nearly unrecruited to one of the premier players in the conference. He can soak in the refreshing knowledge he was mature enough to see the benefit in all those endeavors.
For at least one night, though, they can all take a back seat.
"I'm just happy I can really sleep now," Kilpatrick said.
I want to hear from you! Send any questions, comments or thought on SK returning to UC to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.