The night before UC’s final home game of the season, March 6, 2014, against Memphis, Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson — long-time roommates on the road — stayed up talking until about 2 a.m. in their hotel room. They reminisced about games past and wondered how the program would look after they left.
Mostly, though, they talked about how hard they planned to play against Memphis and how they wanted the home fans to remember them.
“We’re going to go out the way we want to go out,” they told each other. “We’ve got to leave everything on that court. We’ve got to get to the point where you can’t breathe; where you’ll crawl on the floor to get to where you want to go.”
“I really wanted to make that night special, not only for me, but for the fans as well,” Kilpatrick said.
As soon as Jackson was announced to the crowd before the game, he started crying. Then tears started rolling down Kilpatrick’s face. Once Kilpatrick was announced, the ovation was so loud and long that it “sent chills” through him.
Kilpatrick said that Cronin hugged him and said, “I love you, man, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and this program. If you need anything, and I mean anything, I’m always here for you.”
“That made me cry,” Kilpatrick said. “He gave me the chance to come to the University of Cincinnati and make things work. Once I got here, when I told him what my dream was, he said it’s going to be a lot of work but it’s not impossible. That’s something I really thought about on senior night. I remembered everything he said to me. That caused me to cry the most.”
Then, it was show time. No. 20 Memphis never stood a chance.
The Bearcats raced to an 18-4 lead and went on to a 97-84 victory. Kilpatrick scored 34. Jackson finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three assists. Classmate Titus Rubles had a career night with 24 points and five rebounds.
“Once that ball was thrown up in the air, it was all over,” Kilpatrick said. “We just saw blood. If you were standing in the lane, Justin was dunking on you. If you were trying to guard me, I was crossing you over. Titus had the biggest game of his life. We really put everything we had onto the court.
“It’s a night I will never forget. Honestly, that was the best game of my life. It was the result, how things went, the atmosphere. It was so loud in there. You couldn’t even hear Coach call any plays because it was so loud.”
When Kilpatrick emerged from the locker room after UC’s victory, his friend Ricardo Grant told him that a fan was waiting to meet him and wanted his shoes. “You know these are my favorite sneakers,” Kilpatrick said. “SK, you’ve got to do it,” Grant said.
Kilpatrick met the fan. It was a boy in a wheelchair. “I ran back in the locker room, signed those sneakers, and gave them to him,” Kilpatrick said. “I took a picture with him. It made my day.
“I always said to myself that I would never, ever make a kid feel that I was too stuck up or too good to sit down and try to talk for 10 or 15 minutes. I always wanted to leave a mark on younger kids. I want to be somebody who is recognized for his off-the-court ability, as well as on the court.”
Consider it done
As good of a player as Kilpatrick was at UC, he was equally — if not more so — appreciated because of the way he handled himself publicly, in the media, in games and the way he represented the program and the university.
For five years he stayed out of trouble. He said he chose the gym over parties. He mostly hung out with teammates. “I understood really early in my life what my mom and dad expected from me,” he said. “If I did get in trouble, that would be very disappointing to them.”
Kilpatrick earned his degree and was selected to join Sigma Sigma, a UC men’s honorary fraternity founded in 1898 that emphasizes leadership and loyalty to the University of Cincinnati.
“It’s the top honorary on campus,” Kilpatrick said. “Do you know how hard it is to get in Sigma Sigma? There are not a lot of people who get in.
“I never had heard about it until [former Bearcat] Leonard Stokes told me about it. Then I did my homework on it. I took it with open arms. I am able to be a part of this university forever now and really lay my mark down knowing that my name will forever be paved on this campus.”
When Cronin talks about Kilpatrick, it’s clear he meant more to the program than all the points he scored and victories he participated in.
“This is what I’m most proud of: Not the wins, but when you think of a Cincinnati basketball player right now, what comes to your mind?” Cronin said. “You think of Sean Kilpatrick. He’s a good guy. That benefits all our former players. It helps them all get better jobs, whether regular jobs or in basketball. And it’s great for our university.”
Icing on the cake
On March 31, 2014, Kilpatrick was named first-team All-America by the Associated Press. It was the culmination of a memorable senior season and five years at the University of Cincinnati.
Kilpatrick left as the school’s No. 2 all-time scorer with 2,145 points and is the only player other than Oscar Robertson to amass 2,000 points. He tied [Deonta] Vaughn for most 3-pointers made in school history (313) and set school records for games played (140) and career minutes (4,315).
He played in four NCAA Tournaments. He led the American Athletic Conference in scoring with a 20.6 ppg scoring average. And he graduated with a degree in criminal justice.
“It went so fast,” Kilpatrick said. “I had a helluva life here. If the NBA wasn’t in existence, I would never want to leave college. When I write things on Twitter and Instagram and I hashtag #hottestcollegeinamerica, that’s something that I really mean.
“This college took me to a whole ‘nother level. It made me a man. It made me who I am today. There are a lot of guys in the NBA who went to Cincinnati who never come back. I will try to come back every year for a game. I know that may be impossible, but you better believe I will try. This is who I am. I bleed Cincinnati red.”
Author Michael Perry, A&S ‘84, is vice president of content strategy at Vehr Communications and an adjunct journalism professor at UC. He spent 25 years in journalism and was sports editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for signed copies.