NEW ORLEANS — The two most important men in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s life will be on display tonight at the national semifinals in New Orleans. They’re the two names sewn into the back of his Kentucky jersey.
The quiet freshman will be playing for his family when Kentucky (36-2) faces Louisville (30-9) – the father he never really knew, the uncle who taught him the game and his mother who kept everything together for the grief-stricken boy.
“It’s been a lot for me,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of his personal journey. “I’m just very excited. That’s it. I’m very excited for the opportunity.”
Kidd-Gilchrist’s heartache began as a boy. A month shy of his third birthday in 1996, Michael Gilchrist, Sr. was shot and killed in Camden, N.J. All that was left was the movie they used to watch over and over together, The Lion King, which quickly became his favorite film.
A new father figure emerged in his uncle, Darrin Kidd, who didn’t want Michael to grow up alone with his mother, Cindy Richardson. It was Kidd who instilled a love of basketball and was by his side at every step of the recruiting process, including when Kidd-Gilchrist got his first taste of Kentucky basketball at Big Blue Madness.
On Nov. 10, 2010, hours before Michael was to sign his letter of intent to come to Kentucky, Kidd collapsed and died of a heart attack. To honor him, he legally changed his name, adding Kidd to his own.
“(He was) my best friend,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, who brings a photo of his uncle with him on every road trip and says he’s still watching him play every game. “He’s always with me.”
His father stays near, too, through the animated film that Kidd-Gilchrist watches and can recite word-for-word nearly daily to the chagrin of his teammates.
“Mike is great,” Kentucky forward Anthony Davis said. “He loves The Lion King, but I get tired of watching it. He puts it in every night.”
Kidd-Gilchrist said he took strength from the tragedy, finding motivation and a will to never give up and got a boost from the resolve of his mother not to let her son falter.
The best of his 38 games this season came in a 69-62 win over Louisville on Dec. 31.
Kidd-Gilchrist played all but one minute, scoring 24 points and grabbing 19 rebounds, both career-highs.