MILWAUKEE – For a former Mr. Basketball, a past McDonald’s All-American MVP, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was never more ordinary inside the UNLV gym, never more stargazed around him. In an exhausting summer week with the USA Basketball program, Kidd-Gilchrist watched how the NBA’s young stars trained and took turns consuming first hand how far many had come.
USA Basketball coaches and officials surrounded them, scouted their every move in scrimmages, and Kidd-Gilchrist felt the intensity rise. It emitted in matchups with Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, and his close friends Anthony Davis and Paul George. As if a miserable, losing season with the Charlotte Bobcats hadn’t brought him humility, this July week in Las Vegas did.
“It was very humbling,” Kidd-Gilchrist told RealGM. “To be in that Team USA category, it humbled me. All the stars, and Coach K’s [Mike Krzyzewski] presence. You can’t forget about him in the picture.”
As much as one week moved him, Kidd-Gilchrist wants to be part of the group competing for the World Cup team next summer, too. He’s hopeful about the chances that Jerry Colangelo will extend him an invitation, but he understands: USA Basketball highly values – and rewards – improvement, especially the season after participation in its summer program.
Kidd-Gilchrist never faced as many defeats as the Bobcats managed a season ago. He became the second-youngest player in NBA history to have a 25-plus point, 12-plus rebound performance, but he struggled with an unsteady jumper, an unreliable offensive presence.
There came 61 losses on an inexperienced team lacking voice within the coaching staff, and he needed to learn to cope to losing this way after winning the NCAA championship at the University of Kentucky in 2012.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I love my teammates and they love me back, but it was a learning experience last year. I was just a rookie, and we had a really young team.
“I want to get these wins this year, man. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Slowly, the Bobcats will develop a culture under Steve Clifford, an astute coach who promises to drain himself teaching, drain every ounce out of the roster. Clifford is handed the task of grooming the Bobcats’ youth, and he still appreciates his veterans – Al Jefferson and Jannero Pargo, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon.
“They are pro’s pros,” Clifford said.
Within Kidd-Gilchrist and another high draft pick, Bismack Biyombo, Clifford has maintained the importance of simplicity. Stay true to yourself and within the abilities you can control, the coach tells them: Defense and energy. Kidd-Gilchrist has worked with Mark Price on his shooting technique, and he’s been a constant face in the Bobcats’ facility.
“I’m just reading the defense, but I know I got to make the shots,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I’m working hard on it so I’m not worried.”
Among all these Bobcats, Kidd-Gilchrist has evident traits to translate into an elite player. He’s lengthy, relentless in drives to the basket, and displays a visible passion in both high and low moments in a game. His first season didn’t match the expectations of the Bobcats’ No. 2 pick, and yet Kidd-Gilchrist remains a willing learner, at just 20.
Youngest NBA player there, and he watched young stars grazing the surface of their potential inside the UNLV campus. It overwhelmed him at times, being part of a roster like the one USA Basketball assembled. Most of all, USA Basketball humbled Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – and leaves him wanting more out of himself.