There is a difference between college basketball and the NBA and perhaps nobody better illustrates that than Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, a 24-year-old redshirt senior having a magnificent season for the Bearcats.
Youth, potential and upside are bonuses for NBA executives evaluating talent, whereas age, experience and wisdom are virtual negatives in this day and age.
Of the Top 10 projected picks on the DraftExpress.com Mock Draft, none is older than 19.
Projected No. 1 pick Joel Embiid? 19.
No. 2 pick Andrew Wiggins? 18.
No. 3 pick Jabari Parker? 18.
You have to go all the way down to Kentucky’s Willie-Cauley-Stein at No. 10 to find somebody at the ripe old age of 20.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott — perhaps the favorite to win the Wooden Award — is a virtual senior citizen at 22.
So where does that leave the 24-year-old Kilpatrick in the eyes of NBA decision-makers?
Well, consider that he’s nowhere to be found on the DraftExpress.com board.
Not even in the second round.
“He’ll get some looks,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com told SNY.tv. “The track record of 24-year-old draft picks might hold him back a bit but he’ll certainly have his chances to impress people at Portsmouth and in private workouts.”
One former NBA executive gave this detailed explanation of the thinking.
“GMs will always value upside over immediate impact when drafting with the first 20 picks but in the 20s and especially in the second round, GMs will look at drafting players that are either in Europe that can stay over there for a year or two, or upperclassmen (i.e. seniors) that can step in and provide a role and play 10-15 minutes in their first year,” the former exec told SNY.tv.
“When a player is older most GMs will take a look at the skill level, character and position to see if those qualities of that particular player fit the current makeup of their team before choosing an older player over a younger player. They may choose to have a player with more upside because GMs figure an older player is who he is and probably will only slightly improve unless it is a 4/5 positional player because they usually take more time to develop and the GM is willing to gamble on size rather than a perimeter player — such as [center] Bernard James of Dallas.
“Kilpatrick’s skill level typically is that of either a late-first at best but more often that of a second-round selection and yes, his age will come into play though he and his team are having an excellent year.”
After Kilpatrick went off for 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists in No. 7 Cincinnati’s 63-58 win over No. 22 UConn Thursday night, one veteran NBA scout couldn’t help but be impressed.
“Watched the whole game,” the scout told SNY.tv. “Much improved, leading the league in scoring. Strong, very good moving off screens and pin downs. Nice late second-round pick.”
Here’s a bit of the backstory on Kilpatrick for those who don’t know.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin opted to redshirt him during the 2009-10 season because he also had Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn on the roster.
Stephenson went on to become the Big East Rookie of the Year and is poised for a huge payday this summer as an NBA free agent to-be.
Kilpatrick wasn’t thrilled about the idea when Cronin brought it up.
“I thought, ‘Nah, no way,'” Kilpatrick, then 20, told me in the fall of 2010. “That was my first reaction.”
But he soon realized Cronin’s plan made sense because he’d be playing behind some big names, and that his time would come later on.
It didn’t take long for Kilpatrick, who averaged 28.4 points in four years at White Plains High School, to prove he could score in college, too.
During a three-game trip to Canada in October 2010 Kilpatrick averaged 14 points and dropped 17 in a victory over the University of Ottawa.
“He can score 10 points falling out of bed,” Cronin told me then.
He averaged 9.7 points as a freshman, 14.3 as a sophomore and 17.0 as a junior.
Now, here we are three-plus years later and Kilpatrick is averaging 19.7 points for a Cincinnati team that is 11-0 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference.
They have won 15 straight games and 18 in a row at home.
Amidst it all, it’s hard to argue that Kilpatrick isn’t in the mix for the Wooden Award.
“There’s a lot of ball still to be played, guys,” Cronin told reporters after the UConn game. “I think that Sean Kilpatrick should be a candidate for the Wooden Award, but I’m a little biased. I don’t think that’s even a question. I think if his team wins the conference, at the end of the day, Shabazz, Russ Smith and Sean are the three guys. And if we win the league, obviously he’ll win the award.”
Said Kilpatrick: “I don’t look at myself as an MVP, my whole team is an MVP.”
He’ll have his chance to impress, but surely somewhere there’s an NBA team willing to give this guy a shot.