Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin redshirted Sean Kilpatrick two years ago because he would’ve been playing behind veteran guard Deonta Vaughn and one-and-done phenom Lance Stephenson.
Once Vaughn and Stephenson departed, it opened the doors for Kilpatrick to step into a major role with the Bearcats.
Now a sophomore, the 6-foot-4 wing is a major reason why Cincinnati (15-4 overall, 5-1 in the Big East) is off to its best start in conference play since joining the league in 2005.
He drained a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left Wednesday to lead Cincinnati to a 70-67 over No. 13 UConn at Gampel Pavilion.
For the season, Kilpatrick is leading the Bearcats in scoring at 16.2 points per game to go with 4.7 rebounds. He ranks sixth in Big East games in scoring at 17.7 points per game.
“Kilpatrick I think is really, really one of the better players in our league,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said Thursday on the Big East conference call.
“He’s very unselfish. We tried to get a little extra pressure on him and he gets the ball off, and that’s what makes him more special because of the fact that he can really light you up.”
When Bearcats coach Mick Cronin first approached Kilpatrick about redshirting two years ago, he wasn’t thrilled about it. After all, he had averaged 28.4 points across a four-year career at White Plains High School and finished as the program’s all-time leading scorer. He then prepped a year at Notre Dame Prep.
“I thought, ‘Nah, no way,’” Kilpatrick told SNY.tv two years ago. “That was my first reaction. But I spoke to my mom and my dad about everything with Coach Cronin and they figured it would be a good idea.”
Asked if his feelings were hurt, Kilpatrick said: “No, not really. I’m just a person that takes sacrifices for the team. I didn’t look at it like it was hurting my feelings. I took it with a grain of salt and said this can help me a lot more to work on my game and continue to keep working hard in the classroom.”
So far the move has paid off, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the man they call “SK.”
Kilpatrick made headlines before the Xavier game Dec. 10 when he called out fellow New York native Tu Holloway entering the game.
Appearing on WQRT-AM in Cincinnati, Kilpatrick was asked if he were a better player than Holloway.
“I’ll let the fans decide,” Kilpatrick said, according to The Sporting News.
Pushed by host Andy Furman to give his own opinion, Kilpatrick said, “Yes I am.”
Furman then asked Kilpatrick if Holloway would start for the Bearcats.
“Would he, with the players we have now?” Kilpatrick responded. “I would say no.”
Since the brawl and the loss to Xavier Dec. 10, Cincinnati is 10-1, with their only loss a two-point home decision to St. John’s Jan. 7.
Kilpatrick has scored in double-figures in all but one of those games, including going for a career-high 27 in a 68-64 win at Georgetown Jan. 9.
“Sean Kilpatrick is a guy we recruited because he was already that kind of [aggressive] player,” Cronin said Thursday. “He’s always been a very, very confident offensive player. He’s worked really hard with my assistant coaches on his 3-point shooting and that’s really taken his game to another level.”
Kilpatrick shot just 5-for-15 in the UConn game, but Cronin had the confidence in him to take the big shot.
“I’m glad that Coach has that kind of confidence in me to go the length of the floor,” Kilpatrick told Cincinnati.com. “When I saw that everyone was covered, I decided to just get the ball and go on. All I saw was a path and then someone cut the path off and I just wound up shooting it.”
Only a sophomore, Kilpatrick can still improve his ball-handling and his ability to create off the dribble.
Who knows how high is ceiling is, but the former redshirt from White Plains is now leading the Bearcats toward another NCAA Tournament bid.
“The kid works hard and when you got talent and you have tremendsous work ethic and mental toughness,” Cronin said, “you got a chance to make yourself a player and that’s what you’re seeing with him.”