UK freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is projected to be selected in the first five picks of the 2012 NBA draft, but of the five Wildcat underclassmen that declared for the draft Tuesday he appeared to be the one to give the most consideration to returning to school.
“I’m just 18 years old,” he said. “I’m just so young.”
Kidd-Gilchrist was UK’s fourth-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game and second-leading rebounder at 7.4 rebounds per game. During his freshman season, he developed a reputation as a shutdown defender and selfless teammate that often raised the intensity level of both practices and games.
“He defends, has a high motor, played multiple positions, can guard all five positions,” said UK head coach John Calipari of Kidd-Gilchrist. “The things he does as a teammate: dragged practices, even in games would take over games with the emotion of how he played.”
While the Somerdale, N. J., native has excelled on the court at UK and in high school, he was was dealt a difficult hand off it as a child. Kidd-Gilchrist’s father, Michael Gilchrist Sr., was killed when Michael was a toddler, and his uncle, Darrin Kidd, who served as a father figure throughout his adolescence, died on the same day he signed his letter of intent to play at UK.
Before arriving on campus Kidd-Gilchrist legally added the “Kidd” to his last to honor his uncle.
The loss of the father figures in his life has strengthened Kidd-Gilchrist’s relationship with is mother, Cindy Richardson.
“We’ve been through a lot,” he said. “That’s my best friend in life, period.”
Richardson was one of the few voices encouraging him to return to school.
“She wanted me to come back — bad, bad,” he said, noting his mother thought he was still too young to be a professional. “She wanted me to come back, but I had to make that decision. It was my dream.”
Richardson also thought he could use another year to adjust to the constant media interviews that would come with being a NBA payer. Kidd-Gilchrist has a speech impediment that makes it difficult for him to articulate his thoughts completely during interviews and often results in long pauses between thoughts.
“I got a lot better at it I think,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of his media skills. “I think I got a lot better at you guys. I’m ready for anything that comes my way now.”
Kidd-Gilchrist called the media training the most beneficial skill he learned during his year in school.
“That and it was just growing up period I think,” he said.
In February, Kidd-Gilchrist sent waves through the Big Blue Nation when he told reporters he was planning on staying at UK long enough to graduate. He quickly backed down from those comments, but he and Calipari said staying in school was a real option.
“If you ask Michael a month ago, Michael was coming back,” Calipari said. “Now, you look at Michael and Michael knew that he grew on and off the court and he was ready for the challenge. If you asked him a month ago, he was saying ‘I’m staying.’ So that’s why I tell kids, let the season end, get the information and then you make decisions on your life, what’s the next part of your life.”
“I was really close (to staying) believe it or not,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I’m 18-years-old still. I was really close.”
A variety of considerations had Kidd-Gilchrist pondering a return to school.
“I think it was off-the-court and on-the-court stuff,” he said. “I’m going to be a pro. I got to suck it up.”
In the end, the draft projection was too high to pass up, Kidd-Gilchrist said.
“It’s my dream too,” he said. “I don’t want to wait any more for my dream. I want to make it a reality now.”
He also admitted winning a championship made the decision easier.
“I think for all of us (it did),” he said. “I would have stayed, but we won. I can’t argue with that.”
Kidd-Gilchrist was emotional during Calipari’s opening comments Tuesday in which he announced all five players were leaving for the draft. That emotion was a result of the bond he has forged with his teammates, Kidd-Gilchrist said.
“I’m going to miss this whole thing here, from school, the basketball,” he said. “It’s been a long ride. I think it’s been a long ride for all of us in this gym.”
With his first professional contract on the way, Kidd-Gilchrist is excited about the future.
“The first thing I’ll buy for myself? I don’t know,” he said. “But it’ll be something crazy.”
He does have one goal with that first contract.
“I want to spoil my mom,” he said. “I think I’m going to spoil my mom to death. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to.”