Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leaned against a wall and relaxed. He couldn't contain a smile as he talked about his time at Kentucky and his decision to leave for the NBA.
"I'm going to miss this whole thing here," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "School, basketball. It's been a long ride for all of us this year."
Kidd-Gilchrist, along with the other four starters on Kentucky's national championship team, announced he would be entering the 2012 NBA Draft during a press conference on Tuesday evening at the Joe Craft Center. Kidd-Gilchrist is projected as a top-five pick.
He flew home to New Jersey on Thursday night to meet with his mother and make his final decision. He made his decision that night, then returned to Lexington on Monday.
Kidd-Gilchrist said his mother, Cindy Richardson, actually wanted him to stay another year. If the Wildcats hadn't won a national title, Kidd-Gilchrist said, he probably would have stayed another year. He's young even by freshman standards (he won't turn 19 until Sept. 26), and his mother wanted him to get closer to finishing his degree.
"I'm just 18 years old," he said. "So there's that. I'm just so young. But I think I'm ready. I have a lot of confidence in myself."
He's grown significantly in his year at Kentucky. Kidd-Gilchrist, who has a stutter, said learning to address the media at UK was the biggest benefit of his time in Lexington.
Kidd-Gilchrist was genial during interviews throughout the season, though he was uneasy at times early in the year. His speech improved noticeably as he grew more comfortable. The media patiently waited for him to answer questions on occasions when he did struggle.
"I think I got a lot better at it," he said.
He'll miss everything about his time in Lexington. He'll miss the fans, and his teammates who he's become brothers with. And yes, he even said he'll miss the media. Several reporters, many of which likely won't speak to him again, wished Kidd-Gilchrist well when he finished his interview.
Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists during his freshman season while shooting 49.1 percent from the field. He consulted several people before making his final decision, including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Kentucky head coach John Calipari told Kidd-Gilchrist to take his time with his decision.
"The fourth-leading shot taker on our team," Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist. "Defends, high-motor, played multiple positions. Can guard all five positions. The things that he does as a teammate the same way, dragged practices. He would take over games with an emotion of how he played. His skill level absolutely has improved from the beginning to the end."
There's plenty that Kidd-Gilchrist is looking forward to at the next level, not the least of which is taking care of his family.
"I'm going to spoil my mom," he said, a smile growing across his face. "I'm going to spoil my mom to death. That's one thing I'm looking forward to."
It was a close call, Kidd-Gilchrist said. Probably closer than most would believe. But in the end, he couldn't pass up the chance for something he had been hoping for his entire life.
"It's my dream, too," he said. "I don't want to wait no more for my dream. I want to make it a reality."