Confident the statute of limitations has passed, Brooklyn guard Sean Kilpatrick admits he might have exceeded the speed limit when he hurried two seasons ago from nearby Delaware toward Madison Square Garden, where his big NBA break awaited.
But he was prepared that March 2015 afternoon had he been delayed by the long arm of the law.
“I was thinking to myself if I get pulled over, I’ll tell them I’m going to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Garden,” he said.
After considering suiting up 40-year-old shooting coach Mike Penberthy, the Wolves signed Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract, primarily because he was the most viable D League prospect available that afternoon to reach midtown Manhattan by a 7:30 p.m. tip.
He quickly packed some belongings about 3:30, drove 2½ hours north and walked into the Wolves’ locker room 45 minutes before his very first NBA game. League rules require every team field eight healthy players for a game, and until he signed the Wolves only had seven.
Future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett was among the first teammates he met.
“He told me as soon as I walked in, ‘Young fella, you need to get dressed, it’s time to go,’ ” Kilpatrick said. “I’ll always play that in the back of my mind.”
Two seasons later, Kilpatrick’s 16.6 points per game for the Nets was the most by an NBA reserve until he moved from a bench role in Tuesday’s victory over the Wolves into the starting lineup as an injury replacement at New York the next night.
“He’s still the guy who will get in the car and go to any game, any place,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He’s grinded through some tough times to get where he is. He keeps blossoming. We’re giving him a lot of responsibility, and he has answered the bell. We’re thrilled with what he’s giving us so far.”
A first-team All-America at Cincinnati who wasn’t picked in the 2014 NBA draft, Kilpatrick turned 10-day contracts with the Nets into a multiyear contract last winter. But he credits the Wolves and then coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders for his opportunity.
“He gave me a chance to really prove myself,” said Kilpatrick, now 26.
He played 10 minutes that night without knowing a single play call and helped the Wolves win in overtime. Four days later, he helped them win in overtime again, at Utah.
“Coach Flip told me as soon as I stepped in there to play my game, don’t worry about nothing,” Kilpatrick said.
He recalls the day Saunders died from cancer seven months later, saying: “That was probably one of the saddest days for me. When I left Minnesota, he said, ‘Don’t think you did anything wrong.’ He wanted me to take everything in stride and stay focused, and that really has stuck with me to this day.”
Kilpatrick credits veteran Kevin Martin and rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine for making him feel welcome. LaVine, in turn, now calls Kilpatrick “my boy” and said he told Kilpatrick then that he belonged in the NBA because of his shooting, scoring and work ethic.
LaVine smiled last week when he said he considers Kilpatrick a major upgrade over the other option that night.
“Coach Penberthy might have been shooting threes,” LaVine said. “I don’t know about the legs, though.”
Kilpatrick had the legs and the game the Wolves needed in such emergency. He also had his story ready for a highway patrolman if needed.
Would Kilpatrick really have been believed?
“I would have just told him to Google it,” he said.
Short takes: Wolves discover all the world’s a stage
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau took his team to Broadway last week while they were in New York City, where players and coaches attended the historical hit musical “Hamilton” about the life of U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton done to a hip-hop beat. Here are four of the big thumbs-up reviews:
Guard John Lucas III, who saw the musical with its original cast because his wife’s cousin was a female lead: “It was off the chain. It gives you a better understanding of what you learned in class. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but a lot of people learn differently. When you put it into something that’s fun, it gets your mind going, you pick up on stuff. They told you what happened, but it was something modern, urban and unique and it had never been done like that before.”
Center Karl-Anthony Towns: “It was really good. I always wanted to see it, especially being from here [nearby New Jersey]. I went to that Magic/Bird [Broadway play] back in the day . I got to see it with Magic Johnson, too, so that was awesome.”
Guard Brandon Rush: “It was kind of long, but it was good. It was interesting. I liked the hip-hop feel to it. It’s kind of impressive how the actors remember their lines through the whole three-hour play.”
Guard Zach LaVine: “I’m not a play critic, but it was really cool. The history, I didn’t know anything about it. It was about the Founding Fathers, with a new twist on it. It was different, but you learned from it, too. If learning’s like that, maybe I’ll go back to college.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 6 p.m. vs. L.A. Lakers
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Charlotte
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Phila.
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Memphis
Sun., Tue. on FSN+; Thurs. on TNT;
Sat. on FSN, NBA TV
Players to watch: Joel Embiid/Jahlil Okafor, 76ers
TNT’s coming to town Thursday. So, too, will just one of the Sixers’ two young big men probably. The Sixers have started the season with one playing one night of back-to-back games while the other sits. The Sixers play Washington at home the night before.
“I definitely want to do that. In the future, I’m definitely going to try to do it.”
— Guard Zach LaVine when asked about competing in the slam dunk and three-point shooting contest during the same All-Star weekend.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves