UK Men's Basketball

Like Tebow, UK's Kidd-Gilchrist says he just likes to win

Wildcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) ranks first or second on the team in scoring, rebounding, offensive rebounds and free throws made and attempted.
Wildcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) ranks first or second on the team in scoring, rebounding, offensive rebounds and free throws made and attempted. HERALD-LEADER

There's an exception to freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's go-get-'em approach. He recoils from the notion that he has been Kentucky's most valuable player so far this season.

"I don't get into all that," he said before pausing to add, "I'm just a winner. That's it."

Kidd-Gilchrist, who ranks first or second among UK players in scoring (13.1 ppg), rebounding (6.9 rpg), offensive rebounds (30) and free throws made and attempted (40-52), likened himself to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Amid much discussion, each concentrates on the most elemental of sporting motives.

"I'm like Tebow," Kidd-Gilchrist said Tuesday. "I just want to win the games. Whatever it takes, I'll do it."

His next opportunity to win comes Wednesday night when Kentucky plays Lamar.

UK Coach John Calipari attributed Kidd-Gilchrist's effectiveness to diligence. The more time and effort spent in practice and preparation translates into greater production.

To excel, a player must work hard, put in extra time and "absolutely devour practices," Calipari said.

The UK coach recalled Lou Roe and Harper Williams, two UMass players who dominated practices, especially the closing minutes of workouts. He suggested that the result was a willingness, if not thirst, to compete no matter how hotly contested the game.

While crediting Kidd-Gilchrist with setting a tone and inspiring teammates, Calipari noted that the freshman did not assume a leadership position as soon as he arrived on campus.

"Initially, he didn't want to do it," Calipari said, "because he said, 'I'm a freshman.' But it comes to a point where you step up and you start dragging a team.

"But I don't want to put this all on him. I just want Michael to be Michael. Just be who you are and all the other stuff will come into play."

Perhaps most noted among Kidd-Gilchrist's off-court contributions was the establishment of the so-called "Breakfast Club," a voluntary workout that began with four players and now numbers about eight, he said. He declined to say which players participate, but he acknowledged that he first mentioned the idea to fellow freshman Anthony Davis.

"He doesn't need it," Kidd-Gilchrist said of the extra workouts. "... I went to Anthony Davis because he was the first person there.

"I'm ready to lead. I'm a freshman, but, so what?"

Calipari welcomes the Breakfast Club as another means to unite players.

"He's not afraid to lead," the UK coach said of Kidd-Gilchrist. "... (and) getting guys inspired to work."

Kidd-Gilchrist said he considered not playing in Kentucky's last game because his mother had been hospitalized. He said he spoke with Calipari about leaving early for home to be with his mother.

When asked if the game against Loyola served as an escape from concern for his mother's health, he said, "It was on my mind. But I had to play for my team."

Looking ahead?

Though he calls Portland, Ore., home, freshman Kyle Wiltjer understands the Kentucky-Louisville dynamic.

"I know there's a big hatred between the fans," he said. "It's definitely a big game, but there's a game tomorrow we have to focus on."

Kentucky plays Louisville on Saturday, when the tradition-bound programs will meet for the first time with each among the top five in the national polls. UK is No. 3 and U of L No. 4. There have been three UK-U of L games in which both teams were ranked in the top 10, all won by Kentucky.

But putting first things first, the Wildcats play Lamar before joining more than a few fans in turning their attention to Louisville.

"We have to be ready every game because every team we're going to get their best shot," Wiltjer said. "We have to be ready mentally and physically every game."

UK Coach John Calipari downplayed the notion of his players looking past Lamar.

"We haven't talked about this weekend at all," he said. "They may have looked at it or seen it, but I don't think so."