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By LARRY VAUGHT
They were nearly inseparable at Kentucky and often were each others biggest cheerleaders. Perhaps that’s why it was only fitting that Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were inseparable at Thursday’s NBA draft as well.
For the first time ever, two players from the same school went one-two in what could be called the Cat Draft. This came two years after UK had five players picked in the first round of the draft — UK had two more first-round picks (Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague) — in this draft and with the way Calipari recruits no one would be foolish enough to predict that Kentucky could not have the top two picks again in the future.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were both, special unique players. Davis blocked shots better than anyone I have ever seen. Kidd-Gilchrist played harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. Both cared as much about winning as any two super talented players as I have ever seen. If the team won, they were always happy. If the team lost, which happened only twice, they were never going to be happy.
They were both great with fans and the media. They bought fully into the UK basketball tradition even though Davis was from Chicago and Kidd-Gilchrist from Philadelphia.
They also both did something that seems impossible. They came to Kentucky with huge expectations — and exceeded them. They led Kentucky to a national championship with their talented, team-oriented play and both had a knack for making game-winning plays. And that could be a blocked shot, steal, rebound or pass as well as a field goal.
It was a certainty that Davis was going to be the first pick. Every draft analyst had him No. 1 and called him the class of the draft. He tried to downplay being a lock for No. 1 for weeks, but when his name was called he hugged his mom and dad as expected. He also had a hug for Kidd-Gilchrist. It was a scenario he could have been envisioning.
But Kidd-Gilchrist? He looked absolutely stunned when Charlotte took him with the second overall pick. For the last two weeks critics had been pushing Kidd-Gilchrist down the draft board to perhaps five, six or seven. His lack of a proven outside shot was being questioned by everyone. Yet when Charlotte’s Michael Jordan had to make the call — and he knows a thing or two about basketball — he went with a proven winner in Kidd-Gilchrist.
Chris Dortch of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, who also writes a NBA column, could not have predicted a year ago that the two UK teammates would go one-two in the draft even though he had big expectations for both.
“I’d heard so much about them by that point. I thought they were both top five picks, but one-two is unprecedented,” said Dortch. “I was surprised because I’d heard Michael Jordan didn’t think Kidd-Gilchrist would be a star. My guess is Bobcats couldn’t get fair value to trade the pick. They had four power forwards. I never thought (Thomas) Robinson (of Kansas) made sense if they kept the pick.”
It is unprecedented to have players go one-two in the draft and even prompted Calipari to joke to media members at the draft in Newark, N.J., that perhaps the NBA should stop calling the spot it keeps the players attending the draft the green room and change it to the blue room.
Could Dortch see having the one-two picks in the draft make Calipari’s recruiting at Kentucky even better if that is even possible after four straight No. 1 recruiting classes that includes Nerlens Noel, the nation’s top-ranked prospect, in the incoming freshman class?
“It’ll give him more ammo, not that he needed it,” Dortch said.
After winning a national title in early April and having the first two picks in the late June draft, Calipari has all the ammo he needs.
Davis’ parents were humble and gracious as always when interviewed on ESPN after their son was picked. Kidd-Gilchrist’s mom, Cindy Richardson, was, too. .
“Always stay humble, do what the team asks you to do, keep the hard work going,” Anthony Davis Sr. said.
“Always be comfortable in your own skin, accept who he is in strengths and weaknesses, and keep it moving,” Cindy Richardson said of advice she would offer her son.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist did exactly what their parents advised at Kentucky and it was fun to watch and see. Now they’ll follow that same path to the NBA and there’s little doubt they’ll be just as successful. They were special on and off the court at UK and they will be in the NBA, too.