TRENTON, N.J. – Mike Gilchrist was looking forward to showcasing his skills and helping Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick win its fifth New Jersey Tournament of Champions title next month at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
Instead, it appears that the 6-foot-7 sophomore will have to watch from the sideline after he suffered a broken foot on the final play of practice Friday.
"He didn't make a big fuss out of it," said St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle, whose team will play in the Union County semifinals on Tuesday night. "We thought it was a light sprain. They went to the ER to get it checked and he's in a soft cast."
"We have no idea right now how severe it is and how long it is," Boyle said. "Even if it's a slight fracture, for all intents and purposes you're looking at the end of the year.
"He's a sophomore so hopefully he gets more chances to get to the counties and the Tournament of Champions."
Given his immense natural talent, fierce determination and the strong support of his parents, Vince and Cindy Richardson, Gilchrist should have many more opportunities to shine in the future.
His father, Michael Gilchrist Sr., starred alongside Milt Wagner at Camden High School (Wagner would go on to win a national championship at Louisville in 1986 and play in the NBA). And the boy was given a basketball before the father died when Michael was 3.
"His first toy was a basketball and that's all his father ever taught him for the first almost three years of his life," Cindy said. "Michael plays basketball like his father. A lot has to do with his genetics."
Cindy later married Vince, who favors a green "St. Patrick" sweat suit when he isn't working long hours as a truck driver to pay the family bills, and she now refers to him as "Michael's father."
Vince said he noticed early on that Gilchrist had a facility for rebounding the basketball, even if he was a bit clumsy because of the size of his feet. By the age of 8, he was wearing a size 8 shoe. He now wears size 16 sneakers.
"He would fall to the ground, but he would rebound and he would score," Vince recalled. "He wasn't coordinated. I think it was his feet."
It wasn't long before a swarm of AAU and summer coaches began calling after the young man, and Cindy didn't quite understand what the fuss was all about.
"When Michael was little, 5, 6 and 7 years old, coaches were coming and AAU coaches were coming to see him play," Cindy recalled. "When I explained that to [Vince], he was like, 'This is what AAU is.' I didn't know that. My husband educated me on this process."
Two years ago, Gilchrist and his family decided that he would commute 80 miles every day from Somerdale, N.J., outside of Camden, to St. Patrick, a small Catholic school with about 220 students that is annually ranked among the top high school basketball programs in the nation.
Despite criticism from outsiders, Cindy said Boyle never recruited her son and that Michael loves his time at the school.
"Nobody recruited my son to St. Pat's," Cindy said. "I'm going to say it for the record: He was not recruited to go to St. Pat's. It was a family decision. What I will say is my son is happy about being in St. Pat's. We don't make him do anything."
During Michael's freshman year, Cindy would drive her son to school every morning and when his day was done he would take the train to Piscataway where Cindy worked.
This year, Gilchrist wakes up by 5 o'clock every morning and his parents back the car out of the driveway at 5:30. After stopping to pick up a breakfast of fruit and water, he takes the train from Hamilton to Elizabeth, and then gets on a bus to school. He makes the daily journey with Dana Razor, a friend and teammate who plays for the St. Patrick JV.
"He's doing this on his own and he's not stressed out by this process. He loves doing it," Cindy said. "That's how you teach your child the true meaning of tenacity and responsibility. How better than to teach your children than to have them do it?"
On the court, Gilchrist is blessed with a tremendous skill set and enthusiasm for the game.
He was named the outstanding player at the LeBron James Academy last summer in Akron, Ohio. Gilchrist also scored 30 points against Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God in the City of Palms tournament in Florida and was named MVP of the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., after dropping 31 points on Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler in the tournament final. He recently scored a game-high 28 points against Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy in a loss at the Primetime Shootout.
On one play, he elevated between two defenders and threw down a vicious dunk to put the exclamation point on an alley oop. The next time down the floor, he drove to the hoop and put a soft touch on an underhand scoop layup.
Simply put, Gilchrist has a chance to be the best in his class. All the tools are in place as far as length, athleticism, motor, feel for the game and a broad skill base.
— Jerry Meyer, Rivals.com basketball analyst on Gilchrist's potential.
"Nice, that was pretty," Vince yelled from the first row of seats. "You're in a zone now."
Seated next to her husband, Cindy enthusiastically waved a green and yellow pompom.
"Simply put, Gilchrist has a chance to be the best in his class," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. "All the tools are in place as far as length, athleticism, motor, feel for the game and a broad skill base. He just needs to continue to develop and refine his skills and improve his physical strength. He is young for his grade, so that is a plus when considering his upside. Whether or not he establishes himself as the best in his class depends primarily on just improving as a shooter, ball-handler, passer, etc."
Added Boyle, who has sent Samuel Dalembert and Al Harrington to the NBA and numerous players to the Division I ranks: "He's going to get better and better. He's getting 30 and 12 and he's just tapping the surface. I see him being like a Scottie Pippen type down the road. I think by next year you'll see him draining outside shots consistently."
Shy and reserved, Gilchrist only gives interviews in the presence of his parents. After the Oak Hill game, he was understandably too tired to talk.
Asked recently by the Philadelphia Inquirer how much he had improved since his time at St. Patrick, Gilchrist said: "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say 8."
His teammate, North Carolina-bound senior guard Dexter Strickland, said Gilchrist's ceiling is virtually unlimited.
"That's a big night for [Gilchrist]," Strickland said after the Oak Hill game. "He's going to bring it every night. His mentality on the court is just a killer mentality.
"If he gets stronger and gets his ball-dribbling down, he's already unstoppable. But he'll be on another planet if he does that."
A long line of college coaches have already started courting Gilchrist and his family. Villanova coach Jay Wright sat courtside for the Oak Hill game and slapped Vince's hand after walking past him at one point.
One person Cindy and Vince can turn to for advice in the recruiting process is William Wesley. Known in basketball circles as "Worldwide Wes," Wesley was chronicled in a 2007 GQ article that referred to him as "The Most Powerful Man in Sports."
A Camden native and close family friend, Cindy refers to Wesley as her "brother" and Gilchrist calls him his "uncle."
"He's my brother," Cindy said. "I've known him for almost 30 years. He's just not around for basketball in our home."
Wesley has longstanding relationships with many of the top people in sports and entertainment, including Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, the Clintons, Phil Knight and Jay-Z.
"People who really know Wes," super sports agent David Falk told GQ, "know that he's one of the two or three most powerful people in the sport."
Wesley has a strong relationship with Memphis coach John Calipari – Wesley helped send Calipari former Camden stars DeJuan Wagner, Milt's son, and Arthur Barclay – and Calipari told GQ, "Wes is a goodwill ambassador to our program."
Because of that relationship, some outsiders speculate that Gilchrist will eventually wind up at Memphis.
"That's the speculation," Vince said.
Yet the family says they will make the decision that is best for Michael and that Wesley will support them in whatever they decide.
"Every college is Michael's favorite," Cindy said. "He looks at it as an opportunity. He has Villanova, Memphis, of course, Rutgers, UConn and the University of Virginia. Right now that's it. He can only have a top five. We don't want to get into the 10, 15 or 20 schools and create stress.
"If one college comes his way and is willing to be a blessing to my family, that's what it's going to be."