Just a junior, quiet but confident Gilchrist is nation's top player
Michael Gilchrist is considered the best high school player in the country
At 15, he's uncomfortable with the attention lavished on him off the court
On the court, he shows potential to be the next Carmelo Anthony or Rudy Gay
CLEVELAND -- Two weeks ago, the mother of Michael Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 forward from Somerdale, N.J., got a call from a friend who told her that a prominent recruiting publication had ranked Michael as the top high school player in the country. Michael, however, didn't exactly celebrate when his mom told him the news. "Can't you call someone and ask them to put me at No. 15 instead?" he asked.
"That's the God's honest truth," Gilchrist's mother, Cindy Richardson, said as she recounted the story Tuesday afternoon while sitting in the upper-level stands at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, site of Nike's King City Classic hosted by LeBron James. "Michael is a very humble kid. He doesn't like attention like that."
Said Michael, "I don't like everybody knowing me. I like being the best, but I don't like being ranked."
That could be a problem. Though the vast majority of the players at the King City Classic were rising high school seniors, Gilchrist, who led St. Patrick's High in Elizabeth, N.J., to a state title last season and was named New Jersey's Gatorade Player of the Year, is only a rising junior -- and a young one at that. He does not turn 16 until Sept. 24. Yet, Gilchrist is not just widely considered the best player in his class: Many recruiting experts consider him the best player in all of high school basketball. That means a lot more attention is coming his way, whether he likes it or not.
Gilchrist is highly skilled and bouncy, but the truly captivating thing about him is his potential for improvement. Right now, his young, coltish body is all arms and legs. His natural gifts are most apparent when he is finishing around the rim or extending his long arms to snare a rebound in traffic, but he also has a tight handle in the open floor and is an unusually good passer for a player his size.
This is not the second coming of LeBron James, but it is not hard to envision Gilchrist growing into a prototypical NBA small forward in the Tracy McGrady-Carmelo Anthony-Rudy Gay mold. His most glaring weakness is a lack of consistent range on his jump shot, but he gave a hint of what is to come in his final game at the King City Classic on Thursday morning, when he sank a trio of three-pointers.
Though Gilchrist came to St. Patrick's as an unpolished center, his coach, Kevin Boyle, will continue to push him onto the perimeter this season. When Gilchrist is a senior, Boyle says he plans to play him for long stretches at point guard. As his reaction to being ranked No. 1 indicates, the only thing Gilchrist lacks is a swagger to match his stature. "He's just growing into his personality," said Dave Telep, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He doesn't look in the mirror and see what everybody else is seeing."
If Gilchrist is going to be fully comfortable as an elite prospect, he is going to have to get used to everything that comes with being the best player in the country. Though he is widely described as intelligent and outgoing -- Boyle calls him the nicest, most respectful kid he has coached in 21 years at St. Patrick's -- Gilchrist is extremely uncomfortable with interviews. That was evident when I spoke one-on-one with him for about 15 minutes Wednesday. Though he was cheerful and unfailingly polite, Gilchrist's answers consisted of brief sentence fragments followed a series of "ums" and long, awkward pauses. When I asked him if he considered himself to be shy, he grinned and said, "No, I'm not shy. See, I'm keeping my smile on for you."
"You can talk to him for half an hour at Burger King, and he can have a very nice conversation with you," Boyle said. "Once you put a microphone on him, he gets very nervous and uncomfortable. But that will come in time."
That, however, should not be confused with diffidence on the court. When I asked Gilchrist if he thought of himself as the best player when he steps on the floor, he quickly replied, "Yes, yes." Said Boyle, "In basketball, he has a dominating mentality. He is very competitive and really has a nose for the ball."
When it comes to navigating his new life in the spotlight, Gilchrist will rely heavily on the counsel of William Wesley, the well-known basketball Zelig whose network of connections spreads far and wide through all levels of the game. Though Wes, as he is known, usually establishes his relationships with players after they have emerged as elite prospects, his connection with Gilchrist actually predates Michael's birth. Wes grew up in Camden, N.J., across the street from Cindy Richardson, and the two have been good friends ever since.
Wes was in attendance at the King City Classic, but as is his custom, he declined to be interviewed. Even as Cindy praises Wes and calls him her "brother," she is careful to make clear that she and her husband are the ones who are directing Michael's life. "Wes does not play a decision-making role where Michael is concerned," Cindy said. "If I have a question, I'll ask him, but every time something happens I don't pick up the phone and say, 'Wes Wes Wes.'"
For his part, Boyle describes Wesley as an enormously positive influence in Michael's life. "Without question, he's somebody that Michael respects," Boyle said. "He's great for Michael because if Michael complains about something, Wes' answer is to work hard and do what the coach says."
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