The Timberwolves welcomed their newest player just before Thursday’s game at New York, greeting D League guard Sean Kilpatrick in their Madison Square Garden locker room 45 minutes before they all went out together and beat the Knicks in overtime.
Signed to a 10-day contract primarily because he played in nearby Delaware and could get to the game on time, Kilpatrick hurriedly packed some things four hours before opening tip and drove 2 ½ hours north, giving the Wolves periodic progress reports from his GPS as he approached the city.
His presence gave the Wolves the eight healthy and available players NBA rules require for every team for every game. He was needed as that eighth and final player when the Wolves determined Ricky Rubio and seven other injured teammates wouldn’t play that night.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders used such an unusual occasion to tell his players a story from his years in the Continental Basketball Association, where a player had to appear in seven regular-season games to become eligible for the playoffs. Saunders added a player to his Rapid City, S.D., team just before that deadline for a game in La Crosse, Wis.
Really, like just before because the player’s flight was delayed.
“He flew in, got in at halftime and played the second half,” Saunders said. “It was Sid Lowe.”
That was 1989. Sidney Lowe now is a Wolves assistant coach.
“That’s the latest I’ve had someone get to a game,” Saunders said.
By those standards, Kilpatrick was early Thursday, when he arrived with minutes to spare and entered the game early in the second quarter. He played 10 minutes total without so much as a shootaround, let alone a practice, behind him.
“Probably AAU, pickup basketball,” Wolves rookie Zach LaVine said, recalling the last time he played with a teammate he’d just met. “I didn’t know it was his first [NBA] game. He asked me what it’s like. I was like, ‘Dang, my first game I didn’t play and you’re about to play. So you’ll have to tell me what it’s like.’ ”
Kilpatrick played 42 games this season with the Delaware 86ers and Santa Cruz, Calif., Warriors in the D League, where all kinds of crazy things have been known to happen.
But getting a call to the NBA on four hours’ notice?
“This is unusual,” Kilpatrick said. “I was just trying to fit in. You just go out there and try to play defense. You want to do the right things to stick out and that’s something I wanted to do.”
He knew none of the Wolves’ offensive or defensive calls, so he blended in as best he could.
“It was totally different, the play calling they were doing,” he said. “I was just happy I was able to contribute.”
Kilpatrick awoke Thursday morning prepared to go to practice that day and play the Erie Bayhawks on Friday night. His whole world changed when the Wolves called.
Saunders had worked Kilpatrick out last summer before an NBA draft in which no one selected the 6-4 guard who played four collegiate seasons at Cincinnati.
Suddenly, he was headed back home to New York City, where he grew up in Yonkers and moved to suburban White Plains when he was 12. He called his mom and dad, who left work early and headed to the Garden with Kilpatrick’s brother and sister.
“It was kind of crazy,” Kilpatrick said.
Wolves veteran Chase Budinger has been in the NBA six seasons and never played with a teammate he just met.
“This is a first,” he said, laughing, “but he handled it very well.”