But as quick as Davis’ rise came, his near-downfall was almost quicker. Early last August a report surfaced in the Chicago Sun-Times that Davis had chosen Kentucky and accepted $200,000 for doing so. The report was denied by the Davis family and later removed from the newspaper’s website. Still, it had an effect on Davis.
“When the story came out, it made my confidence drop because I thought that it could really affect me,” Davis says. “At the same time, I’ll use it as motivation. There are always going to be haters out there and people that don’t like me.”
There were few haters by the time Davis wrapped up his senior season. Putting up numbers in the 30-20-7 range every time out will do that. The wide-eyed Davis went from the undercard to being the main event, attending the Nike Hoop Summit, Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All-American Game—with Mickey D’s being played in his home city. “I had a lot of my friends and family there,” Davis says. “I was just happy and excited to even get selected in the McDonald’s All-American Game.”
Despite growing into a man’s body, Davis has retained his childlike enthusiasm and appreciation of the moment. His fame has grown with his height, and while he might not sprout up any higher, his celebrity status is barely above the surface.
Everything is relatively new to Davis, like being in front of the camera. Ant isn’t as savvy in this setting as Rivers, but he pays close attention to the photographer’s instructions. He also seems to savor every moment because he knows how much a picture can mean. His first gave him his start in basketball, and that one still hangs in his parents’ bedroom.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
The photographer asks Davis and Gilchrist to flip positions. With both players on their way to Kentucky, it won’t be the last time they switch places on the floor.
Gilchrist is a little more used to these situations than Davis. As a top prospect since his freshman year of high school, the 6-7 do-it-all forward from St. Patrick in New Jersey has long been touted as “the next big thing.”
He’s also all too familiar with what can happen in the same amount of time it takes the photographer to snap a picture, especially on this day.
It’s April 14, the birthday of Gilchrist’s father, who shares the same name, and to tell his son’s story you can’t help but start with his.
The elder Gilchrist was a great basketball player in his own right, leading Camden High School to a 31-0 record and a state championship in 1984. Just 12 years later, after a few missteps in his life, he was shot and killed. His son was only 3 years old at the time, but Michael has carried his father’s memory with him his entire life.
“He determined his mind to dedicate and think about him in every game he played,” says Cindy Richardson, Michael’s mother.
Michael’s father has an immeasurable impact on his life, but it is Richardson who has made her son the person he is today. Not just a mother, she’s his best friend, advisor and biggest fan all rolled into one. She also made sure he stayed on the court.
When Gilchrist was 8 years old, he wasn’t sure if basketball was for him. “I was real soft,” he says. “I don’t know why, but I was scared to get hit in the face and all that.”
A self-described “mama’s boy,” he knew where to turn with his problem. “She said don’t never be scared to do anything,” Gilchrist says. “Always have faith in yourself.”
Once he felt comfortable on the court, there was no stopping Gilchrist. And Richardson made sure that he knew his education wasn’t stopping either.
“College is not an option; you will go,” she recalls telling him. “You will create your own opportunity for that education.”
They settled on St. Patrick, a school Gilchrist always wanted to attend but was a 77-mile commute from his home in Somerdale, NJ. Richardson drove him to and from school every day his freshman year.
Gilchrist’s first high school game was one to forget. His coach, Kevin Boyle, recalls him going 0-5 with 5 turnovers. But by the end of his freshman season, he was different.
“He went from off the bench and couldn’t score to his last game against Oak Hill having like 15 and 10,” Boyle says.
By the end of his sophomore year, Gilchrist was considered one of the top players in his class. He did nothing to change that his next two seasons, tallying 20.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg as a senior while earning the reputation as one of the best defenders in the country.
But while facing Gilchrist on the court might be frightening, there are few gentler off of it. He’s quiet and respectful; always choosing his words carefully, especially in one of his other passions—poetry. “I write about love and stuff,” Michael says. “I’m dead serious.”
And the only person to read them? His mother, of course. As great a duo as Gilchrist and Davis can become, they’ll never be able to top Gilchrist and Richardson. That’s why it’s only fitting that she’s at this shoot, too.
Before the photographer called Gilchrist over, Richardson made sure he had the right clothes on and his face was clean for the camera. Now, as the three boys pose together, she inches her way over to take a closer look. When the shoot is over, the photographer tells Gilchrist to stay there for one more picture. He calls to Richardson to stand next to her son and they smile in unison without being prompted.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
A photograph is a moment in time that can never be changed, and on this day it caught three players in one frame who were flying at warped speed from different directions. What comes next fall and in the NBA and beyond is as unpredictable as their paths to this moment. But what is certain is that Rivers’, Davis’ and Gilchrist’s stories don’t end in front of this camera. They are three players with the abilities to take the basketball universe by storm. Who wouldn’t want to see a picture of that?
Click. Click. Click. Click.