CHICAGO – Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lifted his head, rubbed the hair on his chin and curled his lips in a playful smirk as he saw Florida freshman Bradley Beal approaching him as he entered the ballroom of a downtown Chicago hotel. Beal had just finished speaking with reporters and soon it would be Kidd-Gilchrist’s turn.
The two 18-year olds shared a handshake and some laughter, knowing that they are back at it. After a season of battling it out as Southeastern Conference rivals, Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal are jostling for position, with neither player projected to slip past the Washington Wizards at No. 3 in the June 28 NBA draft.
“I guess because of the potential they see in me,” Beal said, trying to explain his rising draft status on the first day of the NBA combine in Chicago, where the 62 best NBA prospects get examined and interviewed. “I really wish I could tell you, but I have no clue.”
Charlotte will have first dibs on the best player not named Anthony Davis in this draft, leaving Washington to pick from what remains. Certainly, other players — Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson, North Carolina sophomore swingman Harrison Barnes and even Connecticut big man Andre Drummond — are expected to be under serious consideration for the Wizards; they are in dire need of a talent upgrade after finishing with the league’s second-worst record and out of the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
But the Wizards also need considerable help on the perimeter, as they ranked 28th in three-point shooting last season. And Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal could fill a glaring hole as the team continues its efforts to add the right pieces around former No. 1 overall pick John Wall.
No matter where he lands, Kidd-Gilchrist said he knows that he won’t find the same level of success that he had in his one season at Kentucky, where he and Davis led the Wildcats to the national championship. He admitted that he’s not equipped to handle losing but would have to adjust.
“I might cry some nights,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I just hate losing games.”
After Kentucky suffered its first loss in Indiana last season, Kidd-Gilchrist met with Coach John Calipari to organize early-morning workout sessions with his teammates to make sure that they wouldn’t have any more slip ups that would cost them a title.
Teammate Marquis Teague said Kidd-Gilchrist was “the heart” of the Wildcats, as he brought a defensive tenacity and scrappy competitiveness each time he stepped on the floor. Young enough to consider his basketball idol Scottie Pippen “old-school,” the 6-foot-8 Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds at Kentucky. But he mentioned that he sacrificed for the good of the team in order to win.
He added that his jump shot is better than he showed in college.
“I mean, I’m working harder and harder on it each an every day, but it’s there,” he said. “Y’all just didn’t see my little stroke. I got a stroke.”
Beal entered college with a reputation for being a shooter, but he was disappointed that the numbers didn’t support the expectations in his one season – until the SEC and NCAA tournaments, as he finally grew more comfortable in his role and averaged 16.6 points on 58 percent shooting, including 46 percent from behind the three-point line, in his final five games.
A native of St. Louis, Beal has been compared to Ray Allen, the NBA all-time leader in made three-pointers, but he believes there is much more to his game than his ability to make shots.
“That’s really my bread and butter right there. At the same time, I can’t just limit myself to being a shooter,” said Beal, who turns 19 on the day of the draft. “I want to become a combo guard and start developing my ballhandling and try to become a point guard as well.”
Though Kidd-Gilchrist is heralded for his rebounding, Beal actually averaged more defensive rebounds (5.4 to 4.9) despite being shorter. Beal’s height was a concern before arriving in Chicago and he decided to have some fun when someone asked for his results at the combine.
“I measured in at 5-8,” Beal said with a laugh, before stating that he is 6-4.
If the Wizards decide to go for a more seasoned option on the wing, the 20-year-old Barnes certainly looked the part as he conducted interviews in a light blue sweater and slacks, unlike his T-shirt and basketball shorts-wearing counterparts.
“This is your job right now. I just want to look nice. Personally, how you dress says a lot about you,” said Barnes, who met privately with the Wizards on Thursday.
The 6-8 Barnes played under heavy scrutiny in his two years at North Carolina. His teammate Kendall Marshall said he “was in a lose, lose situation. They put him on such a pedestal, it’s pretty hard to live up to.” Barnes still averaged 17.7 points on 44 percent shooting last season and believes the extra year in college made him better prepared to contribute at the next level.
“You never take anything for granted. I’m just fortunate to be in this position,” said Barnes, adding that he wouldn’t mind playing in Washington. “Great city, good organization. Obviously, they’ve been down the last couple of years and they have young players like John Wall that you can build around and really can do things.”
Beal also met with the Wizards on Thursday and said he could see himself forming a solid backcourt with Wall. “I know John a little bit personally. I communicate with him a little bit. He’s a great player, great point guard, a scoring guard. He really gets things going. I would love to play with him.”
Kidd-Gilchrist met with Washington on Wednesday and said it would be “fun” to play with a fellow Kentucky alum in Wall but added, “I just want to get picked. It don’t really matter.”