The Newest Bearcat
Sean Kilpatrick looks to be the next in line of UC stars.
by Cub Buenning
The University of Cincinnati basketball program has been a great “story” since the school formed a team way back at the turn of the 20th century. Names like Oscar Robertson, Pat Cummings, Nick Van Exel, Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin and Bob Huggins were legendary during the Bearcats’ time as a staple in the NCAA Tournament (14-straight to be exact). As the coaching regime shifted from the side-show, if not extremely successful, period under Huggins to the current-day tenure of Mick Cronin, the team has worked hard to stay relevant. They are still bringing in big-time prep recruits and have implemented an exciting brand of basketball in the Queen City.
Last season, the team was “led” by Brooklyn’s own, Lance Stephenson. The Lincoln High School prodigy — like his Coney Island brethren before him — was long since ordained to become Big East royalty. While most assumed that reign would have taken place in Queens, Syracuse or even Orange, NJ, Stephenson decided upon Cincinnati. Granted, Lance didn’t even fulfill a one-year apartment lease in town, but he was actually just one piece of a heralded NYC-area pair. The other player spent last year in street clothes, waiting. Biding his time. With Lance now up I-74 in Indianapolis, redshirt sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick is set to become the next Bearcat name of note.
“At first, I signed with St. John’s, but then I started looking at things with a little more prospective,” the White Plains-native said. “On how close the school was and I kind of figured out that I wanted to get away from home.”
Despite coming in under the same class as Stephenson, Kilpatrick never saw the court last year, as he was the focus of a collective, orchestrated move to “dawn the red-shirt.” The move allowed Kilpatrick the opportunity to practice with the team, hone his individual skills and foam at the mouth thinking ahead to this upcoming season.
“Me and Coach Cronin thought it was going to be a great decision for me. Playing-wise, the minutes that I would have been getting (with Lance around) wasn’t at my caliber. I’m a player that deserves more than 5-10 minutes a game.”
A strong, lean, 6-5 guard, Kilpatrick brings a well-rounded skill-set that nicely compliments a toughness that makes him a challenge to defend. Kilpatrick is deft from the perimeter, has a long, quick first step and has the athleticism to embarrass even the most intimidating foes.
“My game is a little more smoother than usual wings,” ‘Killa’ added. “I can score going to the basket and I can hit my jump shot. I just got to go out and play my game, I’m prepared for everything.”
But nothing can prepare a youngster for the rigors of the Big East Conference. The historically dominant league is a bit top heavy this year, and Syracuse, Pitt and Villanova appear to be seated at the head of the class. Mass conference-wide exodus to the NBA has left several teams much thinner than in years past, with West Virginia, Georgetown and Louisville as some of the more affected victims. While the Bearcats have been given little love from the pre-season prognosticators, a top-eight finish and a berth in the NCAA Tournament is not out of the question. Yes, Lance and Deonta Vaughn are gone, but with local wide-body Yancy Gates back pairing with the extremely long (and former Okie State transfer) Ibrahima Thomas, the ‘Cats should be formidable in the front court. In addition, Cronin also returns experienced minutes in swingman Rashad Bishop alongside the backcourt trio of JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon.
Yes, the landscape is different, but the grind of the Big East should be no less strenuous than in years past. There are the local teams that Kilpatrick grew up watching, but he has his eyes set on one league opponent, in particular. The WVU Mountaineers not only eliminated the Bearcats at MSG last spring, but they also boast two of Sean’s closest friends in Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.
“Playing against them, it would basically be like playing AAU ball all over again,” he continued in reference to his life-long summer partnership with Jones. “Last year was kind of rough, so we got to get them back.”
Expectations (and impatience), however, have become the norm in the southern Ohio city that also boasts national heavyweight, Xavier. Progress was made last year, but that’s still five-straight years out of the Big Dance. And another 19-win, NIT-berth season might not keep the Bearcat faithful fully content. They dream in bigger and brighter colors. Bottom half of the league and some acronym that is not NCAA won’t cut it.
“Everyone is sitting here and saying that we are better than last year,” finished Kilkpatrick. “Our guys are working hard. I haven’t seen guys work this hard in my life. If anything, it should make things a lot easier. Everything should be going good.”
And what will a “successful” season look like to Kilpatrick?
“Hopefully things go smoothly, but then again, just us making the Tournament. That’s all I’m worrying about.”