Kidd-Gilchrist taking on Tebow role for Cats
There will be no bowing of the head in prayer after key plays, no signature pose to sweep the sports-watching nation.
No, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is focused on a different sort of "Tebowing."
Kentucky's 6-foot-7 freshman swingman is less obsessed with the phenomenon that the Denver Broncos quarterback has become than he is with what got him there, less concerned with the hype than the hard work that led to it.
"I'm like a Tim Tebow," Kidd-Gilchrist said on Tuesday. "I just want to win the games, and whatever it takes, I'm going to do it."
The third-ranked Wildcats (11-1) have a pair of them at Rupp Arena this week, a Wednesday warm-up with Lamar (8-4) before Saturday's rivalry renewal against No. 4 Louisville.
And as Kentucky tries to round into midseason form, Kidd-Gilchrist is helping to lead the way.
The freshman from Somerdale, N.J., is averaging 13.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and two assists per game, but he's also showing a willingness to lead even more veteran teammates.
It was Kidd-Gilchrist who started individual morning workouts that grew into UK's "Breakfast Club," now up to about eight members, Kidd-Gilchrist said on Tuesday.
"I'm ready to lead," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I'm a freshman, but so what? I'm just ready to lead and win. I've always been that way."
It took some time for him to adjust to doing it at the college level. Kidd-Gilchrist joined a team with senior Darius Miller and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb available to provide senior leadership, and his initial reaction was to take a back seat.
"I think initially he didn't want to do it because he said, 'I'm a freshman,'" UK coach John Calipari. "But there comes a point where you step up and you'll start dragging a team even as a young player like that. He's begun to do it."
The "Breakfast Club" has been part of that. Kidd-Gilchrist started his own morning workouts, then convinced teammate Anthony Davis to join him. Calipari urged Gilchrist to invite more teammates, and the club has grown since then.
The club is building chemistry, Kidd-Gilchrist said.
"It's like a brotherhood now," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That's what we're doing."
Kidd-Gilchrist, meanwhile, is improving his individual game, and increasing the reputation for toughness that he brought to UK.
"You know what, you build (mental toughness) through how you practice, how much time you spend (working) and demonstrated performance on the court," Calipari said. "You build that. If you don't work real hard and you don't spend the extra time and you don't come in here and fight practices and absolutely devour practices, what happens (is) you get in the game and it gets rough, you want know part of it."
Gilchrist flashed some of that mental toughness last week when he played in a win against Loyola (Md.) despite learning the night before that his mother had been hospitalized.
"I considered not playing," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "But I just had to fight through it. I talked to Coach Cal for, like, hours in the office I was talking to him. I just wanted to stay, so that's what I did."
Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, though he admits he was distracted during the game. His mother - who received messages of support from UK fans on Twitter - was home in time for Christmas.
"It was good," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "The fans mean everything to us."
And he's starting to mean a lot to fans. Kidd-Gilchrist was bombarded with Twitter messages on Christmas from UK fans who received his jersey as a gift, and at least one store in Lexington was selling shirts last week that read "MKG MVP."
Kidd-Gilchrist said the jersey photos were "a blessing." But he was quick to downplay the most valuable player talk.
"I don't get into all that," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I don't get into all that. I'm just a winner, that's it."
Terrence Jones, who has missed the past two games with a dislocated pinky finger on his left hand, practiced Monday, but UK wasn't expected to determine his status for Wednesday's game until late Tuesday.
Lamar's strengths are its rebounding (+6.9 per game) and defense (66.8 ppg allowed), but UK also is concerned with the Cardinals' experience. Lamar starts four seniors and a junior.