COLLEGE PARK - He talks with a fighter's bravado, carries a thick build that suggests he would make a decent wrestler, and oozes confidence he amassed while orchestrating so many successful basketball teams.
As a two-time Virginia player of the year who led Salem High School in Virginia Beach to three consecutive state titles, and as an All-American who bagged three Amateur Athletic Union championships and a Junior Olympics crown, Maryland Terrapins freshman John Gilchrist has been there and done so much.
But the hunger in Maryland's point guard of the future is very much alive and burning, and it shows on the floor, where Gilchrist is quickly making an imprint in the Terps' backcourt rotation.
To Gilchrist, who is blessed with an explosive first step that complements a 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame he uses deftly to protect the ball, the court is part playground, part boxing ring.
To Gilchrist, the creativity of a no-look pass or the execution of a pull-up jumper are both satisfying. But nothing gets his juices flowing like the bump-and-grind of the game at its most elemental. It's as if the Terps recruited a power forward with a quarterback's skills.
"Physical is how I was taught to play, like street ball in the outdoors, where guys push people around like it's nothing," Gilchrist said. "I like to get out there and bump."
Gilchrist bared his game and his mentality with dramatic impact in last weekend's 69-64 loss to Florida. With the Terps' offense struggling in the first half, he came off the bench to supply electricity. Repeatedly, he broke down the Gators off the dribble and made Florida look slow while driving the lane for layups or dishing off to open shooters after drawing double teams.
By the end of the defeat, which marked Maryland's first nonconference, home-court loss in nearly 13 years, Gilchrist had logged a career-high 22 minutes with 10 points, four assists and four rebounds without committing a turnover.
And he didn't make a serious bid for more playing time simply by putting up numbers or by making no-look, behind-the-back feeds that spoke of the creativity in his game. Gilchrist also did it with his dirty work. He ran through countless picks set by much bigger Florida players like senior forward Matt Bonner. He played dogged man-to-man defense.
"From the first time he walked on the court in that [Florida] game, John had that body language. You weren't going to be able to take the ball away from him. He was going to try to play good defense, and he wasn't going to back up," Terps coach Gary Williams said.
"I was impressed with that. It would have been very easy for John to be nervous. I like his toughness and determination. He bangs in there pretty good for a point guard. He's bullish."
Gilchrist offers quite the physical contrast to fellow guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas, seniors who form the starting backcourt with sinewy builds. Count on Gilchrist to bolster the Terps' offense more as the year progresses - either in a three-guard alignment or with Blake or Nicholas playing the off-guard in a standard set.
"I just feel like a part of this team. Every time I leave after a game, I want to be able to look in the mirror and say I played my heart out," said Gilchrist, who is averaging 5.3 points, two assists and 15 minutes, with only two turnovers in seven games.
"You've got to play every game like it's your last. If you lose yourself in the moment, everything goes well. That's my whole motive. Never stop going hard."
Bill Cochrane, Gilchrist's coach at Salem High, saw that same drive in his point guard long ago. Cochrane recalled as far back as middle school when he would see Gilchrist dribbling or cradling a basketball for hours, as if it were attached to his large right hand. He remembers a gangly Salem freshman who hit the weight room zealously and turned into a thick-bodied senior with no loss of quickness.
"John came in here at 5-9, 135, had never lifted weights and could do one pull-up. When he left here, he was 6-2, 182, benching 240 pounds and could do 22 pull-ups," Cochrane said. "He sees the floor and penetrates and passes as well as anybody you'll see. He'll figure what he needs to do to be successful and get it done. And you can't intimidate him."
The Terps knew this while battling Indiana and North Carolina State for Gilchrist's commitment. And the Maryland players sensed it during the summer, after a skirmish between Gilchrist and Blake erupted during a spirited pickup game. It seems the senior with the national championship ring was initiating the freshman with some hard fouls.
Word has it that the youngster more than held his own.
"He's got a lot to learn, but he's only going to get better and better," Blake said of Gilchrist. "He's a big kid, and he's not going to back down from anybody."
Matchup: No. 24 Maryland (4-3) vs. UMBC (3-3)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
Time: 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)