Bradley Beal probably couldn’t have asked for a more fitting opponent for his first NBA preseason game than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
When the Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats play Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena, Beal will take on a rival that he has dueled in high school (the two split national player of the year awards as seniors), college (Kidd-Gilchrist’s Kentucky Wildcats won three games over Beal’s Florida Gators) and even for draft position (Kidd-Gilchrist went No. 2 overall and Beal went third).
Now, the two 19-year-old, former Southeastern Conference adversaries will likely be Southeast Division combatants for years to come.
“I love his game,” Beal said of Kidd-Gilchrist, who was also his teammate during the 2010 FIBA Under-17 world championships in Germany, where Beal was MVP. “I love the way he plays. I love his heart and passion and how hard he plays. I just have to be able to retaliate and hopefully play better than him.”
Beal outscored Kidd-Gilchrist, 21-20, in their first two meetings last season, but he missed 19 of his 25 field goal attempts and Kidd-Gilchrist had the edge in rebounds, 21-13, as the Wildcats won handily. When they met in the SEC Tournament, Beal erupted for 20 points on 8 for 15 shooting and matched Kidd-Gilchrist with eight rebounds in a 74-71 loss.
Kidd-Gilchrist, the new face of the Bobcats’ rebuilding efforts after they finished last season a dismal 7-59, will likely start while Beal wasn’t certain if he would start or come off the bench in his Wizards debut.
The 6-foot-7 Kidd-Gilchrist is also about three inches taller, plays a different position, and has a different style of play than the slasher-shooter Beal. But Beal knows what to expect when the two share the court.
“I’m pretty sure we’re going to guard each other,” Beal said on Saturday at George Mason’s Patriot Center. “He’s a competitor and I love playing against him because he never takes it easy on anybody. I mean, I’m real close friends with him, but that doesn’t mean anything to him. He just wants to beat you, he wants to be competitive, he wants to be the best that he can be. So, whenever I match up against him, it’s always a competitive battle.”
Beal said he had no problem sleeping before his first practice this week and he has a similarly relaxed attitude with his first game approaching. He expects those feelings to change before tip-off, but for now, he’s pretty calm.
“I don’t know, for some reason, I’m not nervous,” Beal said. “I’m pretty sure [nerves] will kick in. I’ve always been told, if you’re not nervous, you’re not ready to play. I mean, who knows if I’m going to be ready to play regardless. I just have to wait until” Sunday.
The first week of training camp has gone close to what Beal expected and his teammates and coaches have pushed him in practice. He’s taken pointers but little abuse as the only rookie on the team. The only hazing he has had to endure is when Martell Webster made him carry his iPod and Trevor Ariza made him tie his sneakers in front of season ticket holders.
“I feel like I’m just part of the team and just part of this whole lifestyle right now,” Beal said. “These guys have really picked me up, all of them took me under their wing. It’s just actually fun being out here. I feel like I’m really a part of the team. I am a part of the team but I really feel comfortable and that I can play within myself.”
Coach Randy Wittman said he doesn’t expect any more out of Beal than his other players on Sunday, but he is interested in how he’ll respond against someone other than his teammates.
“I want to see what he can do,” Wittman said, “and what he’s done here these five days and if any of that carried over into a game-like situation against another team, that’s all I’m concerned about right now as we move forward. I want to see where we’re at retain-wise and how we execute from where we’ve been.”
Beal will be concerned with more than just his first preseason game on Sunday – the St. Louis native didn’t hide his allegiances when discussing the upcoming National League Division Series between his hometown Cardinals and the Nationals.
“Cardinals,” Beal said, when asked who is pulling for in the series. “That’s all I’m going to say. I’m trying to actually go to the game [in Washington this week], if we’re free. It’ll be a close series. I know the Nationals are good, but I still got the Cardinals.”