Gilchrist rises to top of recruiting class (cont.)
Gilchrist is fortunate to have several strong male influences in his life, including his stepfather, Vince Richardson, whom Cindy married seven years ago. Tragically, Gilchrist's father was killed a month before Michael's third birthday. His death remains a delicate topic for the family; Cindy declines to disclose details of what happened, other than to confirm that Michael's dad was murdered. Boyle said he has never talked to Michael or his family about it. When I asked Michael about how his father's death affected him, Wesley, who was standing a few feet away and monitoring our interview, respectfully asked me to stop pursuing the line of questioning.
Cindy did tell me that living through that tragedy is a big reason why she is so insistent on making sure Michael enjoys his teenage years. "I do not want this to be a stressful process for him," she said. "To me, he's still a little kid. Forget the 6-7 frame and the 219 pounds. He's a little kid. He's my kid. My family is excited for his success, but this is not our life."
That attitude is nothing new. When Michael was in grade school, many parents in his neighborhood suggested to Cindy that she have Michael repeat the sixth grade so could better dominate his peer group on the basketball court. Cindy refused. "He does what he has to do in school. Why would I do that just for basketball?" she said. "What would that say about me and my husband as parents? Basketball has never been that important to me. Our concern for Michael is his educational situation."
Having spent her life shepherding her son through the world of AAU basketball, Richardson is often disgusted when she sees other parents adopting a warped perspective as they spur their sons' pursuit of NBA gold. "I've never seen children being taken advantage of as much as I see it through basketball. It breaks my heart," she said. "I'm like, 'What about your son's happiness? What about his education?' I'm flabbergasted by how many young student-athletes don't know what a core class is, or don't understand the NCAA rules. I don't live my dreams through my children, I just enjoy their dreams with them. A lot of people don't understand the difference."
As for Michael's recruitment, many people in basketball circles are assuming that his relationship with Wesley will ultimately lead Michael to sign with Kentucky, whose coach, John Calipari, is perhaps Wesley's closest friend among major college coaches. When Michael was 13, he told a newspaper reporter that he wanted to attend Memphis, where Calipari was then the coach. This week, Michael said that Kentucky and Villanova were his top choices. (Michael used to play youth basketball with Wildcats coach Jay Wright's sons, and Cindy is close with Wright.) Cindy, however, cautions against anyone playing connect-the-dots between Wesley, her son and Calipari.
"There are no dots," she said. "Wes' relationship with John Calipari, that's their relationship. Our relationship with coach Calipari is going to be the same relationship we want to extend to every other college coach. The difference is, coach Cal does his job. Coach Cal is actively recruiting Michael, but we want Michael to experience the same thing every other high school athlete has experienced. He has not decided on where he's going to go."
Michael likes the idea of being like every other high school athlete. "I don't believe in pressure. I just want to enjoy myself and be a kid out here," he said. But make no mistake: This kid is growing up fast. It's only a matter of time before he looks in the mirror and sees what everybody else is seeing.
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