LOUISVILLE—Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been through a lot with his best friend. They met as 8-year-old hoopsters, and they did just about everything together until graduating from St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J.
One thing the best friends have never done: They’ve never played in a basketball game against each other. Kidd-Gilchrist and Western Kentucky’s Derrick Gordon will cross that off the list Thursday.
The two met on an 8-year-old AAU team and instantly bonded, Gordon said. They shared that AAU team for a while, eventually splitting off. But as eventual classmates and teammates at St. Patrick, they were inseparable.
“It’s like my brother,” Kidd-Gilchrist said when asked to describe how close the two are. “That’s it. He’s my brother for life. I’ll do anything for him.”
Kidd-Gilchrist and Gordon started jabbing and trash-talking each other about the possibility of playing each other as high school juniors—Kidd-Gilchrist had already committed to Kentucky, and Gordon to the Hilltoppers. They went against each other casually in practice and in gym class, but the two have never played against each other in an organized game.
Because they’re such close friends, both admitted Monday the competition Thursday between them will be fierce. Naturally, the two don’t profile as each other’s “man”—Kidd-Gilchrist is a 6-7 forward, and Gordon is the Hilltoppers’ 6-2 point guard. But Gordon is also Western’s leading scorer (he scores 11.8 points per game), and Kidd-Gilchrist often draws that assignment. “I’ll let him get a shot off or two,” Kidd-Gilchrist said.
By the time they graduated high school, they knew each other—and each other’s games—as well as their own. But a lot’s happened since then. Gordon, one of the most highly regarded prospects Western Kentucky has ever signed, was in charge of a team that had its coach fired in January and sat at nine wins, 18 losses before its current hot streak.
Meanwhile, Kidd-Gilchrist was among one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes any school has ever signed, and he’s only lost two games so far as a freshman. Both players said they’ve evolved as players; Gordon even compared his style of play to Kidd-Gilchrist’s in that they both love making scrappy hustle plays and playing defense. “He just plays a different position,” Gordon said.
Gordon said when Kidd-Gilchrist lines up across from him—and Gordon said it will happen, at least a few times Thursday—he won’t try to force anything.
Kidd-Gilchrist was more coy.
“I got something up my sleeve,” he said. “I got a little something up my sleeve that he don’t know I can do.”
Kidd-Gilchrist and Gordon’s correspondence together—mostly via phone, text message and Twitter—didn’t slow once the two moved to their separate Kentucky universities, though they haven’t seen each other in person since then. Gordon was hoping to visit UK’s open practice Wednesday, but his own interview session overlapped with it. Considering both teams’ separate schedules, they may not see each other until minutes before tip-off Thursday.
When Gordon’s 11 points and 11 rebounds helped the Hilltoppers come back from down 16 points in the second half to beat Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday to advance to Thursday’s game, he heard from Kidd-Gilchrist within hours.
Kidd-Gilchrist was proud of his best friend. He was proud of his brother.
But like brothers, he had to get a punch in, too.
“He’s saying they’re going to blow us out, all that. It’s not going to happen. I won’t let that happen,” Gordon said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought game. I really can’t wait.”