For as long as he can remember, Michael Kidd-Gilchristhas wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to win a national championship.
“It would mean the world to me to win, and coach Cal, too. I want to win it for him to for all he has done for me this year,” said the Kentucky freshman. “We all want to win for him. I am not selfish at all, so I would love to win it for him.”
“I don’t know. I guess it is just me. I¿don’t really know how to put it. I have never been on a bad team, or I don’t think I¿have. But I love coach Cal and winning the title would be like a dream come true for me and him. He’s done so much for me in my life. I really want this for him,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Kentucky faces Indiana, one of two teams to beat UK this year, Friday night in the NCAA Tournament South Regional semifinal in Atlanta. Kidd-Gilchrist comes into the game averaging 11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocked shots per game. He’s a 47.9 percent shooter from the field and 73.5 percent shooter at the foul line. He’s failed to score in double figures in the last three games and has just one 3-point goal in UK’s last 18 games, but none of that worries him.
“I don’t feel no pressure at all. Besides, I love the pressure,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I have been training my whole life for this.”
That training has turned Kidd-Gilchrist into a versatile, unique player who has become a key contributor on the nation’s top-ranked team.
“He is tough. He has another level of toughness that most players don’t have,” former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “Athletically, he’s tough. I don’t know if there has ever been a freshman come in and possess the toughness he does with the athleticism he also has.
“He has got some toughness about him that most guys don’t have at that level. I would have to think hard who played like him in the past. I don’t remember many. I don’t remember any freshman coming in and playing like that.”
Stansbury says it’s impossible to place a realistic value on the type of toughness that Kidd-Gilchrist has.
“One of the most valuable attributes you can have is toughness,” Stansbury said. “Take and put that with athleticism and you have something special. You can be the best athlete in the world and have no toughness and you are not going to be as good as you can be. Kentucky has a lot of grit in that team, but there is no player on that team tougher than him.”
Alabama freshman Trevor Lacey played against Kidd-Gilchrist in AAU as well as once this season.
“I think now he is showing more of his guard abilities and handling the ball more. In AAU,¿he had little defenders that he posted up and took to the goal more,” Lacey said. “He laughed and had fun, but it was always about business with him. He was always on a mission inside the lines, then off the court it was time to play and have fun. But on the court he was all business.
“He just has a high motor, and always has. He is always going 100 miles per hour. He is never taking plays off and slowing down and feeling like he is able to take this play off and get his breath. He is going all out. He is not a selfish guy that will hurt his teammates just because he wants to stay in the game. He will come out, get his breath and go back in with same intensity and keep it up.”
That intensity is why Calipari has insisted all season that Kidd-Gilchrist does not have to score to be a key factor for Kentucky. His defense — former Wildcat All-American Kyle Macy insists he’s the best defender he has ever seen at Kentucky — and rebounding are what Calipari values even more than his scoring.
“I don’t even know my stats. I never look,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.
New York Daily News college basketball writer Dick Weiss first knew about Kidd-Gilchrist when he was in the sixth grade.
“By time he was in eighth grade, people were calling him the best eighth-grader in the country,” Weiss said. “The thing that amazes me is his mom has job in New Brunswick (N.J.) and he would get up at 5:30 in morning and ride up with her (from Philadelphia) to New Brunswick and then get either a train or ride to St. Patrick’s (High School in Elizabeth, N.J.) because he wanted to play at the highest level,” Weiss said. “He played a very high level AAU team out of Philadelphia that I saw that had Rakeem Christmas, who is playing for Syracuse now.¿
“I thought that he played this year as hard as any player in college basketball. If you gave him 39 minutes, he gave you 39 minutes. That was really impressive to me. I loved the fact he formed the Breakfast Club, where he had guys getting up and lifting weights early. Not many stars do that. For a young person, he has become quite the inspirational motivator for a very young team.”