Monday, January 2, 2012

Leadership by Example Comes From Freshman at UK

Every coach wants to have players on their team that are assertive and willing to accept leadership responsibilities. No matter how demanding a coach or his staff can be in practice, ultimately, success will come down to their players being able to hold their teammates to high standards and demands during the game.

John Calipari's continued success at the University of Kentucky is not a surprise - he has rebuilt the Wildcats into a perrenial national title contender in college basketball - but what is a bit of a surprise is where the leadership is coming from within this very young team.

A nucleus of 2 sophomores and 3 freshmen in the starting lineup leaves Coach Cal with a very young nucleus, but where they lack in life experience, there is no shortage of veteran leadership.

Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes of Calipari's freshman leader, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

With Darius Miller back for his senior season and sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones delaying their departures to the NBA, the popular preseason theory was that University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari had a solid nucleus of leadership in place to mentor his latest class of prized freshmen.

But a funny thing has happened through the third-ranked Wildcats' first 13 games. Rookie swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, arguably the softest-spoken player on the team, has taken charge, set a tone and suddenly seems to be the guy whose act everyone else is following.

It's not just his box-score-stuffing averages: 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. It's not only his effervescent energy that often supercharges his UK teammates. It's his work ethic when he takes the court in Rupp Arena. It's his winner's mentality.

"You can't be sitting in the ice tub yelling to guys to work hard," Calipari said. "They don't want to hear that. So he's out here spending the time."

Recently, Calipari noticed that Kidd-Gilchrist was coming in early every morning to stretch, work out and take a few extra shots. Encouraged by that, and impressed by the freshman's clutch efforts in early games, Calipari thought he was ready for a leadership role and asked him to "drag some guys with you."

So he put out an invitation for teammates to join him, and Kentucky's "Breakfast Club" was born. It started with about four players and has, Kidd-Gilchrist said this week, grown to about eight guys who've met a handful of times in the past two weeks to work out together at 8:30 a.m. and eat breakfast before the team's scheduled practices.

"I'm ready to lead. I'm a freshman, but so what?" said Kidd-Gilchrist, who can already sense that the early-morning club is paying dividends. "A lot of chemistry is building up. It's like a brotherhood now."

That one of the kid brothers is providing the example for the rest is unusual. In fact, Kidd-Gilchrist admits he was "scared" to speak up early in the season.

He said Miller is like his big brother, and it was already awkward enough that Kidd-Gilchrist stole the senior's starting spot after just a couple of months on campus. But the more he earned his stripes in practices and proved his worth in games, the new guy gathered new confidence.

"I'm always in the gym. I'm just getting better and better and, as y'all saw in the Indiana game and the UNC game, it's just showing," Kidd-Gilchrist said, "so I just want to step into that (leadership) role."

Miller, who harbors no bitterness toward Kidd-Gilchrist's rise to stardom, said the freshman was leading this team even before he made that conscious decision.

"He does a great job of leading by example," Miller said. "You don't see too many guys who work as hard as he does and play as well as he does. It was shocking, especially when he came in. I kind of expect stuff like that from him now."

Calipari compared Kidd-Gilchrist's willingness to work to some of the coach's past stars: Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight. The fruits of those players' labor was a spot in the NBA draft lottery and many millions of dollars. The same is likely in store for Kidd-Gilchrist, whose pro stock — which was high to start with — has skyrocketed in just 13 college games.

"I think everyone agrees he's a lottery pick now," ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford said. "Before the season some scouts thought he was and some scouts thought he wasn't. He's got a consensus going now."

Ford rates Kidd-Gilchrist the No. 11 prospect available in the next NBA draft and thinks he could be selected anywhere from the eighth to the 15th pick.

"The guys that I've coached that have spent the most time at this game have benefited the most," Calipari said. "You'll start dragging a team even as a young player like that. He's begun to do it. He's not afraid to lead. He's going to drag that intensity out of this club. It's embarrassing if you don't play with intensity if he's out there, because it really shows."

Kidd-Gilchrist and his young University of Kentucky Wildcats have played really well at the early stages of the 2011-12 college basketball season, and if they can continue to grow with leadership from 'the breakfast club', UK could set standards for not only their play, but how to behave on and off the court as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment