Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
As Kentucky’s Kidd-Gilchrist Stands on the Brink of an NCAA Title, He Discusses His Battle With Stuttering
NEW ORLEANS — Basketball seems to come easy for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the hard-charging Kentucky freshman from Somerdale, N.J., who is projected as a Top 3 pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
But speaking to reporters and in front of cameras — a requirement for high-profile athletes — hasn’t always been so easy.
Gilchrist, 18, has battled a stutter for much of his life.
On Sunday, during a 14-minute session with a small group of reporters here inside the Kentucky locker room on the eve of the NCAA championship game Monday night against Kansas, Kidd-Gilchrist addressed the issue for the first time in the four years I have covered him.
“Yeah,” he said before finding the right words to describe his thoughts on the matter, “I work on a lot of things in life, like school, ball and it’s one of them,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of his stutter. “It’s really nothing to me. I don’t even pay it no mind. It’s a part of me, so I can’t change it at all.”
More than 68 million people worldwide stutter, which is about 1 percent of the population, according to The Stuttering Foundation’s Website. More than 3 million Americans stutter. And stuttering affects four times as many males as females.
Kidd-Gilchrist worked on his speech with various teachers at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick High School, including Maria Kanaley, his math and English teacher, and a speech teacher supplied to St. Patrick by the Union County Educational Service Commission, according to St. Patrick principal Joe Picaro.
“It was always something that he had to deal with and he dealt with it very well,” Picaro told SNY.tv. “He didn’t want to speak with reporters early on and he became a little more comfortable as he went along….Maria Kanaley was very instrumental in helping him.”
Asked if he felt good about the progress he has made with his speaking, Kidd-Gilchrist said: “I feel good. I feel great. I feel great with my progress. So that’s it.”
As evidenced by several scenes in the HBO documentary “Prayer For a Perfect Season,” his speech is often more eloquent and relaxed during unscripted moments with teammates, friends and family.
During one tender moment in the film, Kidd-Gilchrist and his mother, Cindy Richardson, are seen talking on her bed about the death of her brother, Darrin Kidd, for whom Michael ultimately changed his name.
“He was the miracle baby of our family and God had something special destined for him,” Darrin was shown saying of Michael before he passed.
It’s only when Kidd-Gilchrist is confronted by reporters and cameras that he can get nervous and unsure of how his words will come out.
Here at the Final Four, Kentucky brings out four starters plus reserve Darius Miller to address the media from the dais.
Those five players then go to separate “breakout rooms” where reporters ask them individual questions.
Kidd-Gilchrst, by contrast, remains in the locker room with the other players and reporters can speak with him there.
During Sunday’s session, Kidd-Gilchrist was funny, charming and thoughtful, firing off his thoughts on everything from Jay-Z and Beyonce to his near-commitment to Villanova to his friendship with Kyrie Irving to his dreams of winning a national championship.
On Jay-Z sitting behind the Kentucky bench during Saturday’s win over Louisville and wearing a Kidd-Gilchrist jersey: “I like Jay-Z, his songs and all that,” he said.
Then, in a line that drew laughter from the reporters, Kidd-Gilchrist added, “And I love Beyonce, too.”
“Who doesn’t, though?” one reporter asked.
“Yeah, I know,” Kidd-Gilchrist said with a big smile.
On whether he planned to prank anybody on April Fools’ Day: “I’m going to prank somebody crazy today.”
On whether he nearly committed to Villanova out of high school, “It was pretty close but I’m at Kentucky now and that’s it.”
On his friendship with Irving, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft: “I talk to Kyrie a lot of times, every day so that’s it. He’s one of my best friends, too. I’m just proud of him in general, from Duke days to now, that toe injury. I’m just proud of him in general, man.”
On former St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle, now at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, losing Saturday in the ESPN National High School Invitational final, the second year in a row he’s lost a game with mythical national championship implications: “I want to talk with him, talk to him when he gets here [for the Kansas game].”
A year ago, Kidd-Gilchrist and St. Patrick lost the mythical national championship game to Kyle Anderson and St. Anthony, a loss that he says he will never get over and that cannot be erased even with a win Monday night in the NCAA championship game.
“No, but whatever happens, happens,” he said. “But I don’t think it will.”
Still, for two hours Monday night Kidd-Gilchrist will be on a basketball court, where he feels most comfortable….with a chance to win a title and take a share of it back to New Jersey before he potentially heads off to the NBA, where there will be even larger crowds of reporters waiting.
“I love these guys and I’m just happy for them,” he said of his teammates. “There’s going to be a lot of memories we have together. It’s been a fun year for all of us. And it’s the end of the road here.”
And back home in Elizabeth, Picaro will be rooting for Kidd-Gilchrist to finish his career, the one that included long hours of speech work in classrooms at St. Patrick, with something special.
“We’re hoping that he goes all the way,” Picaro said.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.