Commentary

Michael Gilchrist is Mr. Basketball USA

Three-time All-American from St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) edges Bradley Beal and Austin Rivers to become third ever national selection from New Jersey and first since 2001

Originally Published: April 11, 2011
By Ronnie Flores | ESPNHS.com

When researching this year's top three national player of the year candidates, dizzying amounts of stats and comparisons made choosing a winner extremely difficult.

The process needed to be simplified.

Two factors stand out on the resume of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that don't show up in box scores: never taking a possession off and being a team leader on a top national program.

Among today's young players, playing hard is a skill and the 6-foot-7 forward from St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) combined that aspect of his game with a vast offensive and defensive repertoire to be named 2010-2011 ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA.

"It's a great honor to win an award that guys like LeBron [James] are a part of and have won," Gilchrist said. "It's really exciting."

In addition to his approach and leadership, Gilchrist's on-court production helped him edge shooting guards Bradley Beal of Chaminade (St. Louis, Mo.) and Austin Rivers of Winter Park (Winter Park, Fla.). The Kentucky recruit averaged 19.4 points and 14.3 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free throw line for a 26-1 team that finished No. 3 in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Gilchrist is the third player from a New Jersey high school to earn the Mr. Basketball USA award, a performance-only honor dating back to the 1954-55 season.

Rivers was the early frontrunner in this year's Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, but Gilchrist gained momentum when St. Patrick beat Winter Park, 75-66, in a rare January head-to-head match up of national player of the year candidates. Rivers scored 38 points on 26 shots, while Gilchrist finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

Gilchrist's candidacy took a hit when the Celtics lost their only game of the season to St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) in a FAB 50 No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown March 9. Gilchrist made only 2-of-11 field goal attempts before fouling out but contributed game-highs of 14 rebounds and five blocks.

Rivers and Beal surged ahead of him in the tracker following that game, but Gilchrist had already led his team to a victory over Rivers' team and dominated against better competition than Beal did this season and throughout his career.

A four-year varsity performer and three-time All-American, Gilchrist played on teams that compiled a 105-12 record against national competition. In his four years, St. Patrick's lowest finish in the FAB 50 was No. 17, Gilchrist's freshman year.

After he entered high school as primarily a defender and shot blocker, Gilchrist developed his offensive game enough to shoot 40.5 percent from the 3-point line this season. To put Gilchrist's impact in perspective, he was named Gatorade State Player of the Year as a sophomore when Dexter Strickland (North Carolina) and Kyrie Irving (Duke) were teammates.

Irving is projected a top five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

"This year, I just focused on being a leader all of the time on the court," Gilchrist said. "Working on my jump shot helped me a lot, too. Last year, I had Kyrie, so I wasn't really worried about scoring that much or my jumpshot. This year, I had to step up more and be a leader on both sides of the floor."

At the McDonald's All-American Game, Gilchrist was a team leader during practices and it translated over to the game. His East team won thanks to his 16-point, 12-rebound performance and co-MVP honors.

"Gilchrist can change the game with his offense, his defense, his rebounding," said Mr. Basketball panel member and ESPN Director of Basketball Recruiting Paul Biancardi. "He's just a coach's dream. He cares more about winning than statistics, and he plays 100-percent all the time."

Through senior editor and National High School Sports Hall of Famer Doug Huff, ESPNHS has chosen a national player of the year for over 20 years. The process calls for the player to be chosen after all teams have finished their seasons to reflect those that win state championships or other postseason accolades. Input from the Mr. Basketball USA panel was critical toward the final selection.

When the dust settled on this year's national player of the year debate, the statistics weren't as much the determining factor as the things Gilchrist brought to the table that coaches appreciate and, more often than not, lead to victory.

"This season with my teammates at St. Pat's and winning these awards has been everything I could have dreamed of," Gilchrist said. "I'm having a lot of fun and just seizing the moment."

And the moment definitely belongs to Gilchrist.