Working Toward The Spotlight
Catching up with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as he prepares for the NBA Draft.
by Brendan Bowers / @BowersCLE
Repetitive thuds of bouncing basketballs met Michael Kidd-Gilchrist last Wednesday, as he entered a Cleveland-area gym to continue his training for the NBA Draft. Wearing a grey Nike sweat suit and sandals, with a backpack slung over his right shoulder, his wide smile quickly engaged the many youthful eyes that welcomed him.
The player known throughout the basketball universe as MKG was once a McDonald’s All-American from New Jersey, then a National Champion from Kentucky, and now the strongest candidate for the team picking second overall in next month’s NBA Draft. He walked into his second workout of three for the day with the purpose of a 10-year pro, yet grounded enough to share a gym with basketball players of all ages.
As his backpack slid down over his shoulder, and a pair of Nikes he’d soon change into flopped onto the floor beside him, I walked over to say hello. I had previously assumed a player preparing for the NBA Draft would request and require a closed practice facility as he trained. In the case of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist however, I was wrong.
“It’s a humbling feeling for me actually,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, when I asked about working out at the Beachwood High gym filled with roughly 30 kids playing basketball after school. “I know I was like them at one point,” he added. “I was just like these kids once. I’m very humbled to be around them and I wish them nothing but the best.”
As he peeled off his hooded sweatshirt, sitting down to tie his shoes, the 6-7 Kidd-Gilchrist pointed across the gym to the shortest player on the court. He couldn’t have been taller than 5-1, no older than 12. He was driving in for a lay-up high off the right side of the glass as we continued to talk.
“See that little guy over there,” he asked me. “I want to know who he is. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m going to.”
As MKG first took the court for his own workout, a two-hour session of combined skills and strength training began. Jerry Powell, his skills coach, accompanied him on one side of the gym opposite the Beachwood students.
While watching him move through the skill work with a motor that never slowed down, I spoke with his strength and conditioning coach, Jon Purtor. We talked about the training regimen Kidd-Gilchrist has been on since cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
“We are working on a six-day per week plan with Michael,” Purtor told SLAMonline. “In the middle of the week, on Wednesdays and then again on Saturdays, we work soft tissue and recovery, mobility and flexibility. Then we do split routines on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Sunday is his off day, and he just shoots.”
“Michael’s 100 percent into it too,” Purtor added. “He really has a great mindset; he’s very wise for his age. He acts like he’s 30, the way he approaches it. He comes in every day with that type of mindset too, which is really, really, rare for someone at his age to be able to demonstrate.”
What’s similarly rare about the 18-year-old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is his ability to play the game of basketball. He’s a high-flier, a punishing finisher around the rim, and he can out-rebound any perimeter player in the Draft. But all that doesn’t stop him from digging in defensively, with a desire to also be great on that end of the floor.
“I love playing defense, that’s my thing,” MKG went on to tell me during a break in the session. “I feel like I’m a guy who can guard [positions] 1 through 4 in the NBA. Offensively, I believe I can play the 2 or 3 in the NBA too, and I’m just working hard in order to prepare myself for that.
“I’m working on my shooting, off the dribble stuff, and ball handling too, in addition to just working to get stronger and improve all areas of my game every day.”
As a player only one year removed from his senior season at St. Patrick’s, Kidd-Gilchrist is embracing this opportunity for growth with Coach Powell. He’s showing improvement with every session too, especially with his jump shot.
“We’re working on a lot of form shooting,” Powell said later in the afternoon. “A lot of moves off the dribble, a lot of different ways to get your own shot off, with the context of improving his form at the same time. To do that, we are getting up a lot of shots, just a lot of reps.