For Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, basketball may have been the easy part.
Before his third birthday, his father was shot to death in Camden, N.J. in 1996. As a young child, Kidd-Gilchrist and his father, Michael, had watched the movie The Lion King almost every day.
Now 18 years old he will turn 19 on Sept. 26 Kidd-Gilchrist still watches the movie once a week, its tale of young Simba growing into a lion after seeing his father die having become a part of his life.
Kidd-Gilchrists father had gone to Benedict College in South Carolina to play basketball in the 1980s, but left school and joined the Army instead. His son grew into a 6-foot, 7-inch small forward who became an integral part of Kentuckys national championship team in his only college season.
The day Kidd-Gilchrist verbally committed to play for Kentucky April 14, 2010 would have been his fathers 44th birthday.
His versatility, tenacity and relentlessness convinced the Bobcats to use the No. 2 pick on Kidd-Gilchrist. He had 17 points and 11 rebounds in a December match-up with North Carolina and posted 24 points, 19 rebounds and no turnovers in a victory over fourth-ranked arch-rival Louisville later that month.
He plays harder than anybody else in college basketball, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. He can guard multiple positions. He can guard anybody from the point guard to forwards who play inside. He has tremendous will.
It has been hard-earned.
After his fathers death, Kidd-Gilchrists mother moved her family in with her brother, Darrin Kidd, who became a surrogate father to Michael. On the day Kidd-Gilchrist was to sign his letter of intent to play for Kentucky, his uncle collapsed. Kidd-Gilchrist performed CPR but couldnt save his uncle.
Later the same day, he signed his letter of intent with Kentucky.
Last July, he announced on Twitter that he was changing his last name to Kidd-Gilchrist to honor his uncle.
He has also become a mentor to Kidds son, Deante, who attended the NBA draft with Kidd-Gilchrist and other family members Thursday night. More than 100 friends and family members were expected to make the short trip to Newarks Prudential Center to share in the culmination of Kidd-Gilchrists basketball dream.
I have a lot of emotions, Kidd-Gilchrist told the Newark Star-Ledger prior to the draft. Im still 18 years old. Im supposed to be in high school. Im supposed to be a grown man now.