Sean Kilpatrick understands what it takes to make it in the NBA, in part because he witnessed Bulls wing Jimmy Butler scorch his team four seasons ago.
Kilpatrick, then a redshirt freshman at Cincinnati, watched as Butler, then a senior at Marquette, went off for a career-high 30 points, six rebounds and three steals in a game-high 39 minutes. Kilpatrick's Bearcats, then members of the Big East, emerged victorious, 67-60, and he scored six points in 20 minutes to contribute to the win. But years later, as Kilpatrick prepares for the NBA Draft in Chicago, that memory of Butler's performance still resonates.
"He was one of the toughest guys I had to go up against, and with me being the shooter and scorer on that team at that point as a freshman, when I came off the bench he was the one guarding me," Kilpatrick said at last week's Combine. "With (Butler), having that tenacity and me seeing guys like that and growing up in the collegiate level, now that I know there’s guys like that in the NBA I’m pretty sure I can bring something to the table as well because I have the same tenacity. I learn from guys like that, playing against them."
Despite a phenomenal senior season in which he averaged 20.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists and was named a first-team All-American, Kilpatrick is not among the top of any NBA Draft boards. No teams were wishing for lottery ping-pong balls to fall in their favor to have a shot at drafting him. At 24 years old -- he spent a year at prep school and redshirted his freshman season in addition to his four seasons in Cincinnati -- he's considered ancient in the one-and-done-era, and he'll likely have to wait until the second round to hear his named called next month inside the Barclays Center, if he hears it at all.
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Kilpatrick knows his age will be a concern to some teams; he's four months older than Paul George, a four-year NBA veteran, for reference. Eighteen seniors were selected in last year's draft, with just three of those coming in the first round. But he also sees his veteran leadership as a positive, where a playoff team with a win-now mentality may see his experience as a positive, knowing Kilpatrick can step in right away and contribute.
In the last five seasons a handful of second-round seniors such as Jae Crowder (Dallas, 2012), Chandler Parsons (Houston, 2011), Landry Fields (New York, 2010) and Danny Green have proven to be key cogs on playoff teams. Kilpatrick believes he can provide that same spark to a second unit from Day 1.
"Being a veteran, that’s something that a lot of teams, especially that are making the playoffs, that they have. You look at the Spurs and the Pacers, they have a lot of veterans on the floor and in the locker room. So it’s kind of hard to put a younger guy in the game where he doesn’t really know what to do or his decision making isn’t as great as a veteran, so being able to be a veteran is something that helped me," he said. "I really want to be a great fit for a team and really someone that’s going to do all the dirty work, and that’s something I’m capable of doing. I’ve done that all year as a senior and I think with an NBA team I can do that as well."
Knee tendinitis kept him out of last week's Combine drills, and though he'll participate in pre-draft workouts for numerous teams Kilpatrick' tape will speak for itself. And one aspect of his game that was on full display this past season was his floor leadership. At 6-foot-4 Kilpatrick, a natural shooting guard, will have to handle the ball in some capacity. And as a senior his assist rate (percentage of made field goals he assisted on while on the court) jumped from 13.2 percent as a junior to 18.2 percent in his final season.
Kilpatrick handled the point for a Bearcats team playing without a true point guard after the graduation of Cashmere Wright the year before, and Kilpatrick responded by averaging a career-best 2.5 assists per game while also leading the Bearcats in scoring a third straight season. His scoring and shooting numbers also were up across the board and he helped the Bearcats to a 27-7 record and a tie for the American Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
"As a senior it really came a lot because you had me running the point a lot and really being able to direct the plays and try to put everyone in the right position, it slowed me down a lot more," he said. "It made my shooting percentages go a lot higher and I’ve shot better at the free throw line. Really just being able to make better decisions as a combo guard was something I really wanted to do."
Like most second-round picks, however, Kilpatrick will need to hang his hat on his defense.
That should bode well, as he played for one of the best defensive minds in the game, head coach Mick Cronin. This past season the Bearcats ranked eighth in the nation in defensive efficiency and in all four of Kilpatrick's years Cincinnati ranked no worse than 22nd in such category. Kilpatrick individually allowed 0.781 points per possession, ranking him in the 75th percentile nationally, and finished with 48 steals.
Kilpatrick's frame, commitment to defense and ability to score could make him a coveted pick for the Bulls, owners of the No. 49 overall pick. It's something Kilpatrick has considered, too -- at the time of the Combine he hadn't heard from the Bulls.
"They play defense. I’ve been under defensive-minded coaches from high school going into college as well. So I’m defensive minded all the way and me being able to play defense as a bigger guard, it also helps me a lot because now I have a lot more control on opposing guards," Kilpatrick said. "So the Bulls are a great team and a great organization and I love the way they play defense as well. Coach Thibodeau is a great coach and with him being able to be a defensive minded coach, it’s something that’s right up my alley."