John Clay: Kidd-Gilchrist is Kentucky's pre-Christmas MVP

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 23, 2011 

Quick question: Who has been the pre-Christmas Most Valuable Player on this Kentucky basketball team?

My vote goes to the player who is all about the fire, not the flash.

My vote goes to the player who plays like he just popped out of the toaster.

My vote goes to the player who always seems to grab the game by the horns.

And, as John Calipari said after Kentucky's 87-63 win over Loyola of Maryland on Thursday afternoon, the prayers of the Big Blue Nation should go for one Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

This, despite the fact that Kidd-Gilchrist's mother is in the hospital back home in New Jersey undergoing tests.

UK would not say the nature of the health problem, other than Calipari saying he hoped "that what we find out is all good."

Nor was Kidd-Gilchrist made available for post-game interviews, as well as his teammates so they could make a quicker getaway for Christmas break.

But then, Kidd-Gilchrist says more with his actions on the floor. Through these first 12 games, no Cat has been as consistent in his effort and his production.

"I'll be honest with you; he's dragging our team, which is great stuff," Calipari said Thursday. "He's doing it whether it's rebounding, scoring, making free throws, making threes when he has to."

Or starting the Breakfast Club; an idea that the freshman didn't even know he had hatched when he began working out early in the morning and eating breakfast before the morning practices.

Calipari liked the routine so much, the coach has all but tried to shame MKG's teammates into following.

"My job as a coach is to teach all these young people how to lead," Calipari said Thursday. "But as your season goes on, a couple of leaders will stand out amongst the group."

It's hard to lead, of course, when you are not doing what you are supposed to do on the floor. Kidd-Gilchrist has done that, and more.

Thing is, he does it in a different way. He's not the best shooter on the team, or the best rebounder, or the best passer. Yet he does all three with amazing frequency and with admirable intensity.

It might not sound right to call him the ultimate garbage player, but Kidd-Gilchrist is exactly that in that he seems to snatch every loose ball, stick in every follow shot, plus play suffocating defense.

"In transition, if you give it to him ahead of the pack and it's him and one guy, he's scoring 99 percent of the time or he's going to get fouled," Calipari said.

This isn't to downgrade the early contributions of Kidd-Gilchrist's teammates, mind you.

Anthony Davis turned in his fifth double-double of the season, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Marquis Teague's floor game is getting progressively better. Darius Miller is playing like a senior should.

Doron Lamb had produced five straight double-figure scoring games before being held to nine points — all in the first 14 minutes — by Loyola. And Kyle Wiltjer popped off the bench to score a career-high 24 points on Thursday.

"When we click and we come together and we're all playing aggressive and we're all bouncing and talking and all making easy plays, this stuff gets crazy," Calipari said. "We're not close to that right now."

MKG sure seems close to scary-good right now, which made it all the more odd Thursday when Loyola of Maryland coach Jimmy Patsos said that before the game he mistakenly believed the Greyhounds might have an advantage at MKG's position.

"I was wrong," said Patsos. "He's not flashy, he just drives the ball. ... He makes a lot of little plays, drove in, kicked it, got a rebound. Fifteen, seven and four assists. He was better than I thought."

On this Kentucky basketball team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the pre-Christmas MVP.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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