Sean Kilpatrick earned the game ball after scoring a career-high 38 points and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 127-122 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
After the game of his life, Kilpatrick reflected on his journey and how Nets general manager Sean Marks changed his life.
“Every night I really sit here and say to myself, ‘Where would I be without him?’” Kilpatrick told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like my emotions toward Mr. Marks are kind of crazy because I always say he saved my life, and he did. He really sat here and said, ‘This is a team I want you to be a part of, and just make sure you just play your game and be who you are.’ I think that’s something no team has ever done for me and once I had that type of comfort, it made things a lot easier for me.”
Marks signed Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract for his first transaction as general manager of the Nets. Before joining the Nets, Kilpatrick struggled to find his footing in the league.
Kilpatrick went undrafted in 2014 after being named an AP First-Team All-American during his senior season with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kilpatrick then played in the D-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors and the Delaware 87ers before getting his first NBA call-up.
What was the lowest point of his journey during that time?
“Nights,” Kilpatrick replied after pausing to reflect. “I was sitting there talking to my dad, my mom, and really just sitting here frustrated with the process asking, ‘Why? Why is it taking so long?’ I’m sitting here, doing great in the D-League, doing everything I can possibly do and the only thing my agent had to say to me was, ‘Continue to keep striving and keep being who you are. Don’t worry, a team’s going to pull the trigger on you.’ I just kept believing in Mark Bartelstein at Priority [Sports] and Zach Kurtin. Those guys, they really sat here and stuck with me, and they always used to ask me, when I was coming out as a rookie, ‘Do you want to go overseas?’ I was like, ‘No!’ I followed my dreams and I think that’s something I’m very stern about. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”
Kilpatrick was called up by the Minnesota Timberwolves, signed a 10-day contract and made his NBA debut on March 19, 2015, against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It was a dream come true for the kid from Yonkers.
The only thing more exhilarating than his actual debut was finding out he would realize his NBA dream and speeding on the highway to make it to the Garden for the tip-off.
“[Delaware 87ers] Coach Kevin Young told me as soon as we were done taking pictures that I had a call-up,” Kilpatrick recalled. “I said, ‘Where am I going?’ He said, ‘You’ve got a game at MSG in like three hours, you better go home and get your stuff and go.’ As soon as I heard that I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get out of here.’ I rushed all the way back to my house and packed my bag. My teammate at the time, Jordan McRae, helped me pack my bag and then I looked at him and said, ‘I’m out.’ Next minute you know, I was on the highway, I stopped and got gas, and I was just speeding down there to MSG.”
A future Hall of Fame big man welcomed Kilpatrick to the league once he got to Minnesota’s visiting locker room at the Garden.
“I walked through the tunnel, walked into the locker room, my jersey was sitting there, No. 1, and the first person I see is Kevin Garnett,” Kilpatrick continued. “He said to me, ‘Young fella, you ain’t got time. You better get your behind on the court, it’s time to play.’ I think that was something that really gave me that motivation. If you’ve got a Hall of Famer that’s really sitting here telling you to go out and play, I think that’s something that’s really a confidence booster for you.”
Kilpatrick was cut after playing just four games with the Timberwolves. The following season, Kilpatrick was called up by the Denver Nuggets and played eights games in the midst of two 10-day contracts.
Nearly one month after wrapping up his brief tenure in Denver, the Nets gave Kilpatrick a chance to return close to home. As the saying goes, the third time was indeed the charm.
Kilpatrick described the phone call he got from Marks that changed his life.
“I didn’t know who it was because it was a random number,” Kilpatrick told Basketball Insiders. “I said, ‘Who is this?’ He said, ‘It’s Sean Marks.’ I said ‘From where?’ He said, ‘The Brooklyn Nets. Are you ready to play?’ I said, ‘Yeah I’m ready, I’m ready. What do you want me to do?’ He was like, ‘Meet us in L.A. I’ve sent everything, just meet us there.’ I ended up going to L.A. and as soon as I got to L.A., I just played.”
Kilpatrick signed two 10-day contracts with Brooklyn and played in 10 games. During that span, Kilpatrick averaged 12.2 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the field overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
Kilpatrick’s performance during that stretch convinced Marks to offer him a three-year deal, which he signed on March 19, 2016 – exactly one year after he made his debut with the Timberwolves at the Garden.
Kilpatrick has made Marks look like a genius for taking a chance on him by finding a niche as one of the league’s top scorers off the bench who can also start when called upon.
Kilpatrick will earn roughly $2 million before his deal expires in the summer of 2018.
“Like I said before, with Sean Marks being that guy that pulled that trigger on me, everyday I sit there and go out and play my behind off, not only for my family but for a guy like him, knowing that he sat there and took a chance on me and told me that I can be in this league,” Kilpatrick said. “I think that’s something that I take a lot of pride in.”
Kilpatrick routinely uses the term ‘program’ when talking about the Nets and the organization’s future aspirations. Marks wanted to establish a new culture and Kilpatrick has become one of the faces behind it under the new regime.
After the best game of Kilpatrick’s career, Jeremy Lin retrieved the game ball and gave it to him. The game ball doesn’t just represent merely his best individual game. Instead, that game ball represents a culmination of many late nights talking to his parents, a couple of D-League stints, a high-speed trip to MSG for his debut and a homecoming where his vision became a reality thanks to a leap of faith from Marks.
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