Sean Kilpatrick's first roommate at Cincinnati is now in his fourth year in the NBA. And Lance Stephenson is off to a tremendous start averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and a team-leading 5.8 assists for the undefeated Indiana Pacers.
"We spoke the other night after the triple-double game that he had," Kilpatrick told me. "He's been telling me how focused he's been on just winning. That's something that's he's been harping on. He's been trying to enhance his game by just putting the team in the best position to win."
Sean is actually about eight months older than Stephenson and seriously considered leaving school after his junior year in hopes of joining Lance in the pro ranks. But Kilpatrick ultimately decided to return to UC for his senior season.
"It was very tough, but when you have a coaching
staff like we do and you have great parents on top of that, that makes things a
whole lot easier," said Kilpatrick. "It's
every kid's dream to try to go to the NBA and being able to fulfill your
dreams, but I really just focus on trying to get my degree now. That's something that will last forever - the
NBA won't. Coach has really talked to me
about putting things in perspective with my life. That's something that I really have to focus
on the most, and being able to come back here for my degree and being able to
accomplish what I want to accomplish with my teammates and coaches - that's
what means the most to me."
"Hopefully for him, he's going to have a tremendous season, lead his team to victories, shoot a high percentage, and have an All American-type season the way Steve Logan did his senior year," said head coach Mick Cronin. "That was probably the last great season that was had by a guard here at UC, and that would be a tremendous way to go out for him. I fully think that he's capable of doing it."
In Cincinnati's first four games, including two exhibitions, Kilpatrick has scored 20, 24, 22, and 21 points. But he isn't just scoring. After regular season wins over NC Central and NC State, Sean leads the team in assists (7) and steals (5), and has drilled 16-of-17 free throws. He's getting to the free throw line by relentlessly driving to the basket instead of settling for three-point shots.
"That's been a goal," Kilpatrick told me. "Coach has really been harping a lot on trying to get to the foul line a lot because the hand-check foul is in play now. I'm so much bigger than the guards that are going to be guarding me - they're going to have to foul me in some type of way. Being able to get to that foul line will put us in a better situation."
After playing for Team USA in the World University Games in Russia last summer, Kilpatrick is looking to go to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year as a Bearcat. But he's going to need help from teammates like Titus Rubles who's averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in UC's first two games.
"It's funny because he is my roommate now," said Kilpatrick with a laugh. "He's worked so hard. He's deserves everything that he's getting right now. During the summer when I came back from Team USA, he was walking to the gym at one or two o'clock in the morning. I would ask where he was going and he was like, 'I'm going to get some shots up.' He's worked extremely hard and that's something that I'm proud of him for. He's one of the guys on the team that always has a chip on his shoulder, and I can compare myself to him because we look at things the exact same way."
The 'Cats are also counting on Justin Jackson to provide some offense this year after averaging 3.8 points as a junior.
"He knows how bad we need him," Kilpatrick said. "The 20 pounds that he put on helped us tremendously because now we're not afraid to throw the ball down to him anymore. We know that he can score at will because he's a lot faster and more athletic than the guys that are going to be guarding him. Being able to exploit that mismatch is something that helps us a lot."
If Kilpatrick scores as many points this year as he did as a junior, he'll finish his career as the second-leading scorer in school history behind Oscar Robertson. But his impact on the program can't be measured on the stat sheet.
"I have like a Top 5 or Top 10 list of guys that I've coached as an assistant that I have a relationship with," said assistant coach Darren Savino. "He's in that Top 10 in my mind as far as relationship and dealing with a guy. But as far as a leader? There's not a better leader that I've ever been around in all of my days as an assistant coach in 19 years of college basketball. That's Felipe Lopez, Adrian Griffin who played in the NBA for a long time, different guys from the different schools that I've worked at. SK is all about winning and he's all about toughness. For Coach Cronin, that's the best thing that you can have - a guy who is your best player but he's your hardest worker and he buys in to everything that you tell him that the program and the team needs and he's all for it. We're going to miss his scoring and his basketball stuff, but we can always replace that. You can always get another player that can do the basketball things, but as a person and a leader, that's going to be the biggest thing that the program will miss when he's gone."
Fortunately for Bearcats fans, that day is still more than four months away.
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