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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist taking
leadership role, bringing intensity to Wildcats

University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari has a long list of areas where his team needs to improve, but perhaps no one area has worried him more than the team’s need to better communicate.


“I just told them that (one of) the things that are vital for us to really start growing is, we’ve got to talk more,” Calipari said. “And there were some things that happened in that (Samford) game, but the reality of it is they’re trying. They’re trying to do what we need them to do.”


On most teams, the logical choice for a vocal leader might be an upperclassmen with lots of playing experience, but Calipari’s UK teams have always been heavy on freshmen contributors. Perhaps it is no surprise then that freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has begun to take a more assertive leadership role.


“I’m trying,” he said after UK’s 82-50 win versus Samford. “I’m still a freshman, and I’m trying to do my best.”


Calipari said Kidd-Gilchrist’s performance has helped him overcome the usual downside to a freshman trying to take a leadership role when older players might question his credentials.


“It all develops within your team, and it develops by performance and by effort,” Calipari said. “You can’t be sitting in the ice tub yelling to guys to work hard…They don’t want to hear that. So he’s out there spending that time and he’s doing it, and it’s neat to see.”


Fans can see part of Kidd-Gilchrist’s leadership style before games when he takes to the center of UK’s huddle and dances with his teammates surrounding him in an effort to pump the team up for tip-off.


“I do it just to do it,” he said of the dance. “I do it to have fun.”


Kidd-Gilchrist is also the charter member of the much talked about breakfast club, Calipari suggested his players form for early morning workouts and weight lifting sessions.


“(It can add) a lot of chemistry still,” he said of the breakfast club. “(We’re) just having a good time.”


“One of the reasons I talked to him about what he will do to this club is he’s going to drag that intensity of this club,” Calipari said. “It’s embarrassing (for other players) if you don’t play with intensity if he’s out there, because it really shows. You start seeing, ‘Well this guy doesn’t play hard. Look at Michael.’ So then it raises the intensity in practice. It raises the intensity (overall).”


Calipari said Kidd-Gilchrist faced some of the backlash from teammates you might expect — with some players saying he was trying to kiss up to the coaches — but he has proven he’s just trying to be the best player he can.


“What I always say with guys like him and John (Wall) and Brandon (Knight) is, ‘you don’t do this yourself; you drag other people with you,” Calipari said. “So you have success, but how many can you drag with you?”




UK returns to action Thursday at 1 p.m. versus Loyola. The game will be televised on Fox Sports South.


Photos by Jon Hale and Mark Boxley.



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