By the time the 2011-12 University of Kentucky basketball season came to an end with a national championship in New Orleans, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had already sealed his legacy as a Kentucky legend and as one of the most popular players in the program’s history. But his status may have still jumped in the eyes of some Special Olympics Kentucky athletes when he returned to Lexington on Sunday, June 30. A defensive force on that championship team and the eventual number two overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft had come “home” to host a basketball camp for about 60 SOKY athletes at the Joe Craft Center at the University of Kentucky.
The three-hour camp included sessions of instruction stations, shooting games and five-on-five games, as well as two sessions with Kidd-Gilchrist addressing the group – one an introduction and one a wide-ranging Q and A with the athletes.
In addition to Kidd-Gilchrist visiting each of the instruction stations, coaches and former or current players from Asbury University, Berea College, Frederick Douglass High School and the University of Kentucky Women’s Basketball team helped throughout the day as camp counselors.
The camp came as a result of Kidd-Gilchrist’s outreach to Special Olympics through the UK basketball program. He explained to WKYT’s Brian Milam that his own work to overcome obstacles drew him to work with Special Olympics.
“For those of you all that know me and know my story and know my struggles as a player and a person with me stuttering, I can relate,” the Charlotte Hornets star said.
The camp was a thrill for the Special Olympics athletes in attendance, thanks both to Kidd-Gilchrist’s involvement and to the opportunity to practice and play on the same courts that the University of Kentucky practices on.
“Events like this are fantastic for a lot of reasons,” said Special Olympics Kentucky President and CEO Trish Mazzoni. “One is obviously that it’s a great day that excites our athletes in so many ways – being here with a UK basketball legend and being on the court that the Wildcats practice on. But it’s also important in other ways. Every time we connect our athletes with athletes from other areas of sports it reinforces that while they play at different levels, they still have so much in common. They love the opportunity compete and they work hard to be the best that they can be. We saw that today and we see it in our work with the UK Student Athlete Advisory Committee.”
The Student Athlete Advisory Committee selected Special Olympics as its charity partner last fall. The partnership is scheduled to run through next April.
In addition to all of the basketball activity, all of the athletes enjoyed a tour of the UK men’s team’s locker room and training facilities. Each received a Kidd-Gilchrist autographed poster and an MKG branded T-shirt. They also had the opportunity to go through an autograph line with the UK Women’s Basketball Team.
Our thanks to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and his team, to UK Men’s Basketball Director of Operation Will Barton and to all of the counselors for making the incredible day possible.