ATLANTA – On the eve of Kentucky's Sweet 16 showdown against rival Indiana, the biggest talking point in the Georgia Dome was the future of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after an ESPN report said he intends to enter the 2012 National Basketball Association Draft.
Chad Ford, one of ESPN's lead NBA reporters, posted a story on the sports media giant's website late Thursday afternoon citing multiple sources saying the decision to leave Kentucky after just one season had already been made regardless of how the Cats' season ends.
"He hopes he'll be able to announce right after they win the NCAA championship," one source was quoted as saying. "But even if they don't win it all, he's coming. He knows he's going to be a top-5 pick. He can't pass that up."
Kidd-Gilchrist has been rated as high as the No. 2 draft prospect behind teammate Anthony Davis, and has received widespread support as a potential top five selection. The 6-foot-7 forward has averaged 11.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists to go along with 39 steals and 36 blocked shots on the season. Although his jump shot is considered a work in progress, NBA scouts are enamored with Kidd-Gilchrist's motor, athleticism and unselfishness on the floor.
As Ford's report began to spread Kidd-Gilchrist himself took to social media to address the story.
“I don't know where this is coming from,” Kidd-Gilchrist said on Twitter. “This is MY decision. Right now all I'm focused on my Teammates and winning Games. After the season Ill make a decision that's best for me and my family!”
Kidd-Gilchrist said earlier this month he intended to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season, and reiterated that desire before the Cats' NCAA Tournament opener against Western Kentucky. He is one of the nation's youngest freshman and won't turn 19 until September.
Before Ford's report broke, UK coach John Calipari spoke about his love of coaching Kidd-Gilchrist during NCAA mandated interview sessions at the Georgia Dome.
“I was sitting on my easy chair two night ago … I picked up my phone and texted him,” Calipari said. “I said, 'Michael, I'm just sitting here watching TV and it popped in my mind. I want to let you know how much I love coaching you.'
“There's not a coach in this country at any level that wouldn't want to coach Michael Gilchrist. I'm just proud of how he's grown not only as a basketball play but socially, how he's been in front of (the media), it's hard.”
Kidd-Gilchrist will undoubtedly have to answer repeated questions about his future from this point forward, but a definitive decision isn't likely to come until after Kentucky's season concludes. The NCAA has instituted new legislation requiring players to announce their intentions by April 10, but the NBA does not recognize that rule and thus a player could say he's staying and still enter the NBA Draft by the league's April 29 deadline.