After Bradley Beal finished his first NBA preseason game in Charlotte last month, fellow rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the first players to greet him. They hugged, chatted and grinned. Barely 19 years old, both had already made it.
“The realization of our dream,” Beal said. “He was like, ‘Keep working hard. Keep getting better. It’s only going to go to the top from here.’ I know he’s always going to work hard. I’m going to work hard. Sky’s the limit for both of us.”
Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist – the two youngest starters in the NBA – have battled each other in AAU, the Southeastern Conference and draft position, forming a friendship rooted in mutual respect and a desire to compete. But before they face each other in an NBA game that actually counts on Tuesday, Beal reflected on the summer of 2010, when the two actually were teammates; back when the Charlotte Bobcats rookie was known as Michael Gilchrist.
Both rising seniors on a team that also featured fellow first-round picks Andre Drummond, Tony Wroten and Marquis Teague, Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist led the USA Men’s U-17 world championship team to an 8-0 record and a gold medal in Germany. Beal was named tournament MVP after averaging a team-best 18.3 points but he credited Kidd-Gilchrist for helping him play at a higher level.
“It made life much easier, because he does all of the dirty work,” Beal said. “He just takes all that pressure of you. He can score the ball, rebound, shoot, pass. He’s like the perfect teammate, basically. He’s everything you would want in another player. Just to have him on same team, to play with him, I enjoyed it. It was the best team I ever played on, in my life. He was one of our best players we had our team and it just shows the hard work and effort that got him here now. I’m happy for him.”
Kidd-Gilchrist added the Kidd to his last name to honor Darrin Kidd, his uncle and “best friend” who died during his senior year of high school. After a stellar freshman season at Kentucky, Kidd-Gilchrist went second overall in the NBA draft – one spot ahead of Beal.
Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist split national player of the year awards as high school seniors, but Beal is hoping to finally end a string of losses to his friend and rival. The Wizards lost their preseason opener against Charlotte and Florida lost all three meetings with Kentucky last season. Beal came close to leading the Gators to an upset in the SEC tournament, getting 20 points and eight rebounds in a 74-71 loss.
“He got the best of us the first couple of times and the team did,” Beal said. “The third game was the best game we played by far. I mean, we’ve been close almost every game I played them, but just their talent level and the way they turned it up in the last couple of games is tremendous. Whenever I play against him, it’s always just pure competition. I mean, in the third game that we played, we both had good games. It was just back and forth. I was making shots, he was making shots. He was making stops, I was making stops. It was a back and forth battle.”
Beal is expecting the intensity to pick up even more now that they have made it to the highest level. Beal is averaging a team-best 13 points for the Wizards (0-5), while Kidd-Gilchrist is contributing 12.2 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Bobcats (2-3).
“He doesn’t take our friendship on the court, which is what I like best about him,” Beal said. “He’s always competitive and always ready to compete. And he wants to win. He has my mentality. He hates losing and he always plays hard. He plays hard t he whole game. It’s going to be a challenge for me. It’s going to be a challenge for him as well.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, who turned 19 in late September, is one of just two NBA players younger than Beal, leaving the Wizards rookie in an odd position whenever he talks about him.
“I’m proud of him. I’m pretty sure he’s proud of me as well,” Beal said. “He’s younger than me, so it’s really hard to feel that way.”