"He is blessed with a motor no other player can match. So many times, we see players who average more points, rebounds or assists than Mike in high school, but rarely do we have the opportunity to witness someone as relentless as he is," said Fitzsimmons. "There were many doubters who questioned his upside at the next level, but those naysayers overlooked his intangibles. He has an NBA-ready body and carried this win-at-all-costs aura with him. The kid is just a winner — on and off the court."
Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 13.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for UK?going into Saturday's game at Tennessee. He is shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 75.3 percent at the foul line. He has 21 blocked shots and 20 steals in 17 games.
Fitzsimmons got to see Kidd-Gilchrist play at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J., and the UK freshman's story is a major part of Fitzsimmons' book, "Celtic Pride." He is a senior writer at MSG Varsity, a branch of Madison Square Garden Network in New York which covers high school and college sports. The Editor's Choice award-winning book celebrates three-time National Coach of the Year Kevin Boyle and his two-decade reign at St. Patrick.
"From the time Mike walked in the doors to school there, he was such a heralded player. He was a three-time All-American," Fitzsimmons said. "He was on everyone's radar. Not just New Jersey, but everywhere. I knew immediately he would be a big part of the book. The team was ranked 11th nationally going into his senior season and with the teams they were going to play, I?knew they had a legitimate shot to be No. 1 and they ended up No. 2.
"For the better part of the last two decades, St. Patrick held its place as one of the most successful high school basketball programs in the United States. Under the direction of three-time National Coach of the Year Kevin Boyle, the Celtics always found a spot in the USA Today Super 25 rankings despite a budget shortfall strong enough to present a potential death blow to the school's existence. That type of rags-to-riches story was one that needed to be told. I always said the book was something the wonderful community deserved, too.
"Mike plays a huge role in the story, simply because he was the most recent All-American to grace the court at St. Patrick. NBA players Kyrie Irving, Al Harrington, Sam Dalembert, Derrick Caracter, and multiple big-time college players such as Dexter Strickland (North Carolina), Corey Fisher (Villanova), Mike Nardi (Villanova) and Shaheen Holloway (Seton Hall) all call the Elizabeth school their alma mater."
St. Pat's — the way Kidd-Gilchrist refers to his high school team — had never had an undefeated season and made it to the state final last year before losing in the championship game.
"Mike's character made an already interesting tale that much more compelling," Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons became a Kidd-Gilchrist fan as much for what happened off the court as the heroics he performed on the court. Remember, Kidd-Gilchrist had almost a two-hour commute just to get to school each day.
"I love this game of basketball and I loved the St. Pat's coaching staff and everybody there. They all helped me," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I didn't mind the commute. I would get up at 5:30 and then get home at 8 or 9 at night, or sometimes later. I would stay up there sometimes, too. My godmother is up there, so I would just stay with her. I did sometimes kind of lose track of time. I just tried to always get my school work done and play basketball. I was a tired man a lot of days."
But as ferocious as he is on the basketball court, he was always humble.
"As stated in the prologue of my book, you'd never guess Mike is a budding superstar likely to cash in on millions of dollars in the near future. He was a humble, unassuming kid who yearned to be just one of the guys around the school hallways," Fitzsimmons said. "He possessed such a unique personality. Off the court and away from reporters, he was playful and outgoing. On the court, he was a passionate leader and ferocious competitor armed with a motor unlike any I've ever seen. Meanwhile, when reporters crowded around him, he would turn shy.
"My favorite moment observing Mike came one night at practice when HBO was filming staged poses for each of the team's starters. He eagerly offered to help move the camera dolly toward his teammate alongside one of the producers. He then exclaimed, ‘If this basketball thing doesn't work out, maybe I'll be a producer!'
"Mike never lost sight of what held him together, even in the midst of suffering through tragedy (losing his uncle to a sudden heart attack on the day he signed his national letter of intent): enjoying his time with friends, succeeding on the court, and most importantly, the value of family."
Fitzsimmons said it was obvious the UK freshman "adored" his high school teammates.
"His actions always kind of said that. He never needed to actually say that. Just the way he carried himself, always wore St. Patrick stuff with pride. It would have been impossible to be that person if you did not love where you were at," Fitzsimmons said.
"His mother, Cindy, and step-father, Vincent Richardson, were big proponents of the team. His mom was like a team mom. He embraced that, too. She was every involved with the team. I remember when they traveled to Florida, she flew with the team and stayed in the hotel kind of like a chaperone."
Fitzsimmons said it was hard to imagine that Kidd-Gilchrist's father was shot and killed — the murder remains unsolved in Camden,?N.J. — when Kidd-Gilchrist was just a youngster and then his uncle who stepped in to help his sister raise Kidd-Gilchrist died of a heart attack last year. That's when the player added "Kidd" to his name in honor of his uncle.
"The kid has been through so much, it is unbelievable," Fitzsimmons said. "He's a kid of faith, though. He's a God-fearing kid from a strong Christian family. His grandmother and parents are models for any family."
Fitzsimmons includes in the book how Irving, a former Duke star, was like a "big brother" to Kidd-Gilchrist for two years.
"At times Mike confessed he would miss Kyrie and would just turn on the TV and watch Duke and his close friend play and that always made him feel better," Fitzsimmons said.
"He was an all-state player and honestly probably good enough to be an All-American," Fitzsimmons said. "He committed early to Western Kentucky in his junior year and never wavered even during his senior season when he had people whispering in his ear that he should opt out and go to a bigger school. His loyalty to Western was kind of astounding. He overcame tragedy, too. His twin brother is in prison on attempted murder charges.
"What made this whole story so incredible is that I?wanted to write a book about basketball but it came out as a story about life, and Mike was a huge part of that. These kids have so much pressure on them that they rely on each other so much. Kentucky fans have probably already seen that in Mike, but I?think they would really enjoy reading even more about him and his high school background."
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The book is available on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Hard cover is $20, paperback $14.95 and Nook version $3.95.