MKG Ready for Tipoff

Matt Rochinski
July 13, 2012

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can’t hold back a huge grin.

Shootaround is over and he’s just hours away from fulfilling a lifelong dream as he takes the court for the first time as an NBA player for the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. For him, tipoff can’t come soon enough.

“Oh my God, I can’t wait,” Kidd-Gilchrist beams. “We’ll see what happens. I just want to help us win games.”

After three days of Summer Camp at Cox Pavilion, Kidd-Gilchrist and his Bobcats teammates are ready to suit up against someone in an opposing jersey when they take on the Sacramento Kings summer squad at 10 p.m. (EST).

While he’s anxious to get things going with the Cats, there’s one teammate he’s been looking forward to lacing them up with for a while – point guard Kemba Walker.

When I caught up with Kidd-Gilchrist back at the NBA Combine in June, the thought of playing with Walker excited him even before the Bobcats selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

“He’s a monster,” Kidd-Gilchrist told me of Walker. “I think he’s a monster, and I’d love to play with him. He’s a hometown kid and it’d be cool to see what we could do together.”

Kidd-Gilchrist hails from New Jersey, while Walker called New York home, giving the two the tri-state connection that brought them together long before they were Bobcats. Their first matchup came when Walker was a senior at Rice High School and Kidd-Gilchrist was just a freshman at St. Patrick High School. Rice won, 60-57, but the Jersey boy still left a lasting impression on his future teammate.

“Even though he was a freshman, he was still pretty good,” Walker laughed after Friday’s shootaround. “We’ve been hanging out a lot here in Summer Camp and I know we’ll be hanging out together a lot during the season. If I can be that big brother to him, I have no problem with that.

“That’s my guy... He’s worked extremely hard to get to this point and finally get into the NBA. I did the same thing. I had a long road of work to get to this point and we’re both young guys (going through the same thing).”

That includes the Bobcats first Summer Camp and Summer League under new Head Coach Mike Dunlap, who has brought an increased intensity to workouts the first three days in Vegas.

“It’s been fun, but it’s been rough,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. We’re going five-on-five (in camp), but it’s been fun and I’m learning a lot too. It’s been a long week so far, but being out here with (Head Coach) Mike (Dunlap), Kemba and (fellow 2012 draft pick) Jeff (Taylor) has been great.”

Kidd-Gilchrist’s first day of two-a-days in camp was a difficult one as he tried to make a good first impression. Walker’s advice to him was not to overthink things and push too hard – just go out and play basketball.

“I think with this being his first year, he was trying hard not to make as many mistakes,” said Walker. “But as the days went on and coach started to tell him he had some freedom to do certain things, I think he started to get a lot more comfortable. He’s definitely getting better every single day.”

Walker wasn’t the only one who saw marked improvement over the course of camp.

“He got to the point where he just started getting after it,” Dunlap said. “He’s long and lean and can finish in the open court. The plus on Michael that I’ve seen is how many offensive rebounds he gets. He’s going to be a problem (for opponents) – he goes to the rack in a special way – I like that.”

For Walker, what he’s seen from the Cats top pick these first few days has been justification of what he’s thought all along and the reason he was hoping MKG would be Charlotte’s pick on draft night.

“I think he’s going to be the perfect fit for us,” said Walker. “He plays really hard, can guard the ball really well, can rebound – he can do a lot of things for this team and is the player that we needed. He’s going to bring that energy each and every night, but at the same time I don’t want too much pressure to be put on him because it’s only his first year – he’s going to be really good though.”

Kidd-Gilchrist will take the first step of what the Bobcats and their fans are hoping will be the start of something special for years to come with he and Walker running the floor. And don’t tell these guys these are just Summer League games that don’t mean anything.

“He hates to lose – and I hate to lose,” Walker said. “We both come from winning programs. He’s intense and I’m intense… I’m excited (to start Summer League with Kidd-Gilchrist). We’ve all been going head-to-head for the last few days, and it’s about time we put all our hard work to the test.”

When asked if he was surprised when he heard the Bobcats had decided to withdraw D.J. Augustin’s qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent, Walker had this to say:

“I had no idea. I respect D.J. a lot. I guess he had a choice to make and I know he’ll be fine. I just want to thank him for all the things he did to help me get through last season and wish the best of luck to him… I feel like I’m being given a great opportunity to run the team. I feel like (Coach Dunlap) is turning me into the leader that I am – that I should be, so I’m excited. I’m definitely excited.”