The last time Derrick Gordon and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shared a basketball court they played in the mythical high school national championship game last March at Rutgers.
The former Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick teammates were upset by St. Anthony in that game and their dream of a perfect season and mythical national title came crashing down.
Now, one year later, Gordon and Gilchrist will meet up in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when No. 16 Western Kentucky meets No. 1 Kentucky at 6:50 Thursday evening in Louisville.
“We’ll eventually say something to each other while we’re on the court, because, I mean, I haven’t seen him in person since I graduated,” Gordon said after tallying 11 points and 11 rebounds as Western Kentucky overcame a 16-point deficit in the final five minutes against Mississippi Valley State for a 59-58 win. “I was only able to talk to him on the phone and stuff.
“But at the end of the day we gotta handle our business. They’re a great basketball program. They’re No. 1 seed. I mean, it’s going to be real good to see them, but when the ball’s thrown in the air, that’s my enemy right there.”
The Hilltoppers (16-18) are the only squad in the 68-team field with a losing record. They are the first team in the tournament with a losing record since Coppin State in 2009.
Yet they overcame a 16-point deficit with five minutes remaining, the largest deficit overcome in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
“We just decided that we’re just not ready to go home,” Gordon said. “We’re just going to keep fighting and turn this thing around.”
Their comeback came in front of President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“I mean, for him to be in the house, it’s a crazy feeling,” Gordon said. “That’s the President of the United States coming to watch our game. But I really didn’t look at him as much while the game was going on because we had to worry about taking care of our business.
“But we wanted to put on a show. I mean, things didn’t work out our way in 35 minutes, but it came out the W. I’m sure he liked what he saw.”
Western Kentucky is a team featuring seven freshmen and it lost 11 of its first 16 games. The low point came on Jan. 5, when Louisiana-Lafayette somehow managed to get six players on the floor for the winning shot in overtime.
The next day, coach Ken McDonald was fired, replaced by Ray Harper, an assistant. The Hilltoppers responded by losing their next three games.
But they came on strong at the end, winning four games in four days to capture the Sun Belt tournament title.
“We lost our coach,” freshman forward George Fant said. “My team, they stepped up. We got a new coach. He stepped up for the job. And we played hard.”
Gordon and Kidd-Gilchrist were featured in the HBO documentary “Prayer for a Perfect Season,” which documented the team’s run last season which ended at the hands of Kyle Anderson, Myles Mack and Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s father, Michael Gilchrist Sr., was shot dead on the streets of Camden, N.J., when he was 2 1/2, and the film shows Cindy Richardson, Michael’s mother, taking him on a tour of Camden to show him where his father used to walk her home from school.
The film also delves into how Gordon coped with having his twin brother, Darryl, locked up in the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Chesterfield, N.J.
“I think about him every single day,” Derrick says at one point in the film.
Since the two players left St. Patrick, the school announced it would shut down following this school year for financial reasons.
But on Thursday, the two former St. Pat’s stars will give the school’s students, alums and administrators another reason to be proud.
“I look forward to watching Mike and Derrick playing against each other, as it is always great to see our past players representing the school and community on TV,” St. Patrick coach Chris Chavannes told SNY.tv. “But it is now even more special and uplifting than ever. It will be an inspiring moment for the entire St. Patrick community during these trying times.”
(The AP contributed)