LEXINGTON, Ky. – Five years later, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still misses it here. While the former Kentucky basketball star was back in town Saturday for a youth camp, he took some time to reminisce about the good old days when he and Anthony Davis led the Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA title and then went 1-2 in the NBA Draft.
“I got a national championship here, so it’s always going to be home for me,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I grew up a lot here in that one year, and I feel like I know you guys personally, so it’s always good to be back and see all the faces here.”
He still visits his favorite Lexington eatery – Raising Cane’s chicken – every time he’s back. But there’s so much now that Kidd-Gilchrist no longer recognizes.
“Everything has changed on campus,” he said. “The football facility is crazy, and I’m very, very jealous we didn’t get a new (basketball) facility here. I really, really don’t understand that.”
He was grinning when he said it – UK basketball has a top-shelf practice facility and players lodge on campus and luxurious locker room at Rupp Arena – but the $126 million Commonwealth Stadium renovation and $45 million football training center are new since Kidd-Gilchrist was in school.
One constant, though, is “me and AD just have a bond that ain’t going to be broken,” he said, and he’ll always be a Wildcat. On the reunion of Davis and fellow UK title-team member Terrence Jones this coming season on the New Orleans Pelicans: “I don’t want to say I’m jealous, because I’m happy in Charlotte,” but yeah, kind of jealous.
He has a UK alum on the Hornets, though, to help keep that connection going. Aaron Harrison, an undrafted free agent who has worked his way into a contract, played on two Final Four teams after Kidd-Gilchrist left.
“I showed him the ropes a little bit,” the NBA veteran said of Harrison. “He was my rook – and we were the same age, basically. (MKG was still 18 when he was drafted.) I just showed him the ropes and how to work hard, what to do at each stage in the season. It’s a long season, so it’s all about your rest and working hard when you can get up to work hard.”
Did he take it easy on Harrison’s rookie hazing because he’s a fellow Wildcat?
“Absolutely not,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. There was laundry to be done, and Harrison was ordered to “get my lunch sometimes when I was tired.”
As for the next wave, Kidd-Gilchrist said he has not played any pickup games with the 2016-17 roster, but he keeps up with top talent and said he’s impressed with freshmen Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk – and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe.
“I like Bam for sure,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I watched him in high school (Adebayo played not far from Charlotte) and he’s strong – a dog. And he just knows how to play the game.”
Few know it better than Kidd-Gilchrist’s boss, Hornets owner Michael Jordan. The NBA legend has taken MKG under his wing the last five years and helped get him through the frustration of multiple injuries interrupting a promising pro career.
Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds and was a lockdown defender his last full season in the league (2014-15), signed a four-year, $52 million extension in August of 2015, then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury seven games into last season.
He says he’s “200 percent” now, though, and his jump shot is better than ever. Five years later, as it was at Kentucky when he struggled to overcome a speech impediment under the brightest spotlight in college basketball, Kidd-Gilchrist’s attitude remains ever positive.
“I talk to MJ a lot about everything, about the game of basketball, its ups and downs,” he said. “I know that I went through all my downs first and it’s only up from here.”
* Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleTucker_ACJ. Reach him at Kyle.Tucker@ajc.com.