New Orleans — It's hard to pick out exactly what was the best part of Kentucky's postgame celebration Monday after the Wildcats won the national championship.
Perhaps it was just watching the way the players interacted on the court from dancing to hugging each other to embracing coach John Calipari and his staff. Maybe it was seeing how the players reacted to the fans, especially the students who found a way to make it to the Big Easy for basketball and Bourbon Street.
There's just something about seeing players who are so skilled and so driven on the basketball having a chance to resort to acting like 18, 19 or 20 year olds. Marquis Teague was dancing on the championship podium. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist put his arms around teammates as they waited for the championship trophy. Terrence Jones and Darius Miller couldn't quit smiling.
When the players went into the stands to find their families, it reminded me of watching a local high school football team win a state title and then having the players desperately wanting to share that moment with their families.
But perhaps my best memory of the whole Monday night celebration will be just watching Cynthia Richardson. She's Kidd-Gilchrist's mother and I am not quite sure how she managed to get on the Superdome court, but she did. She didn't have a camera, only her telephone to record some life-time memories.
She didn't force her way to the front or do anything to draw attention to herself.
"This is their time, not mine. They are the ones who did everything," she said.
True. But wasn't she proud?
"Oh, I?am so proud. I can't even explain what this means to Michael and us," she said.
She didn't have to. Any UK fan already knew that Kidd-Gilchrist's father was killed when he was only a youngster and then his uncle died of a heart attack the same day Kidd-Gilchrist signed his national letter of intent with Kentucky.
At Kentucky where the media spotlight never dims for star players — and Kidd-Gilchrist is a star player — he had to learn to cope with more intense publicity than he ever had endured and constant interview requests. That was especially difficult at times because of a stutter he has.
Give Kidd-Gilchrist credit. He never shied away from interviews. Often, with smaller groups of media members around him, he could show his sense of humor and loved laughing at his own jokes. It never phased him that until after the championship game victory, he was left in the dressing room while UK took the four other starters — Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb — to the media interview room most times along with senior Darius Miller. That left Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer mainly to deal with a horde of media members seeking information during the 30-minute open locker room time mandated by the NCAA and Southeastern Conference.
"That was fine. I like talking about our team because we are a great team," Kidd Gilchrist said.
I enjoyed watching him before the start of each game when the Wildcats gathered in a circle at the foul line and he was in the center of the circle dancing and entertaining his teammates.
"I don't know how that got started. I?am just a silly guy, so I guess that is how it happened. And I love to dance. It's just silly stuff in there. I am not saying anything. I am just dancing," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Miller says teammates appreciated what Kidd-Gilchrist did each game.
"He kind of does something every game. I don't remember how it came about. It just kind of happened one day when we were at a home game," Miller said. "He does a great job getting us amped up for the game. We have fun with it. It gets us going, gets us hyped up. He always shows emotion. You might not get to see it as much as we do, but he shows emotion to us all the time."
He also likes to sing and isn't bashful when he sings.
"We were in a class one day and we had to go up and say a little bit about ourselves for a communications class. He actually went up there and said he was on American Idol. He is always in the room grabbing a water bottle or something in the shape of a microphone. I keep turning up TV and telling him to shut up," Davis said. "He can't sing. But he just loves to sing, especially slow songs. Beyonce. I don't know what he thinks he is, I think he is crazy."
His mother doesn't do anything crazy. She was at almost every game, but seldom could you tell if she was excited. She kept a calm look on her face no matter what happened and even if he took one of his many hard falls, it was like she knew he would get up. It was almost the same when she was hospitalized before Christmas and while he worried, he did not let it impact his play.
That's why I was glad to finally do something for the Gilchrist family Monday, even if it was just taking pictures of her with friends on the court holding a UK championship T-shirt. Seeing that smile on her face at the same time her son was beaming on the championship podium truly was priceless and will be one of the most special memories I'll have from this tournament. Maybe it was the parent in me — or possibly the grandparent — that understood just how special Monday night was for that family.
To have her ask me to even take the photos and in a small way do something for Kidd-Gilchrist, a player I think I've enjoyed watching as much or more than any player ever to play at UK, even made me smile and still does.