Gilchrist rose with sun to earn his place in it

College basketball: Maryland guard John Gilchrist began making his point with pre-breakfast workouts in the eighth grade. Now the Terps' scoring leader, he's still driven.

March 02, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Before he became a two-time state high school basketball player of the year in Virginia and a prized college recruit, Maryland point guard John Gilchrist III was an eighth-grader nicknamed "Bubba," so driven to succeed that he practically worked on his game in the dark.

His father, John Jr., can still hear the creaking door at his family's Virginia Beach home, when the sun would be starting to rise on a school day.

That was the sound of Bubba, tiptoeing out of the house and slipping up the street and around the corner to shoot and dribble alone at his other home - the neighborhood court. A little while later, the son would burst through the door, head for the shower, then wolf down his breakfast. The day's first class was done.

To watch Gilchrist in a Terrapins uniform is to witness a creative scorer and ballhandler, a fiery competitor who talks the game as well as he walks it, a hard-nosed, 6-foot-3 sophomore who loves mixing it up inside and has developed into his team's undisputed leader.

When Dad watches Bubba, he sees the same kid who never let go of the sport he grabbed as a toddler, back when Dad first put a ball in his crib.

"I remember when I first heard the door opening," said John Gilchrist Jr. "It's about 6 a.m., and I get out of bed and stand at the door. I can hear the sound of the ball bouncing. Bubba comes back and I ask him what he's doing. He says, `I've got to be the best.'

"What got me, when I knew basketball was his game, was I'd show him little drills, ball-handling stuff. I'd put cones in the driveway [for his son to weave through with the ball], and he would go by himself to do them. He still has that love for the game."

Bill Cochrane, who first coached Gilchrist as a middle school player on his Amateur Athletic Union team, then groomed him for Division I ball at Salem High School, saw the same insatiable hunger.

"John couldn't go anywhere without a ball in his hands. In a restaurant, on a parking lot, he had a ball with him," Cochrane said. "He always wanted to win, and he always won. He didn't take any shortcuts."

This season, highly disappointing by Maryland standards - the Terps are destined to finish near the bottom of the ACC standings and are in danger of not making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years - has afforded Gilchrist no corner-cutting room.

As the heir to Steve Blake, Gilchrist has presided over the most youthful team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a team that often has played like it. Through Maryland's scoring droughts, turnover spurts, missed free throws and transition defense breakdowns, Gilchrist has emerged as a do-it-all point guard.

Averaging 14.7 points, Gilchrist is destined to become the first pure point guard to lead Maryland in scoring since John Lucas in 1973-74. Gilchrist also leads the team in assists (5.0), three-pointers (30) and shooting percentage (.452), is second in steals (44) and is grabbing a healthy 4.4 rebounds per outing.

This season has been a challenging adjustment for Gilchrist. He has encountered tough matchups on most nights in a league defined by excellent point guards such as Duke's Chris Duhon, Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack and Wake Forest's Chris Paul.

And Gilchrist is dealing with losses in a way that is uncomfortably new to him.

Sometimes, he barely can talk to reporters after defeats. This is a guy who either won or at least played in AAU title games throughout his teenage summers, a guy who led Salem to a combined 69-4 record and a Class AAA state championship over his last three years.

Not that Gilchrist is down. Far from it. He lives for the next time he can set foot in the gym.

"I never take anything for granted," Gilchrist said. "Every day, I feel it's my duty to seize the moment, take advantage of the opportunity that's been handed to me. You've got to keep grinding and bringing your lunch pail.

"I've never been satisfied with stepping on the floor and giving a half-hearted effort. Every day is like a new beginning. This [season] is nothing but a learning curve that had to happen. [Losing] is a new thing. It just motivates me more. The only way I know how to be successful is to work hard. That's how I was taught."

Gilchrist, the second of three children, said he admires the way his parents have plugged along in the working world and provided for their family. His mother, LaRita, works in the accounting department of a forklift company. His father has been a United Parcel Service driver for 18 years.

As a puny youngster who had yet to discover a growth spurt or a weight room and came to Salem High at 5-9, 135 pounds, Gilchrist expressed his enthusiasm for the game in pickup games against older, bigger boys. His dedication to the game was among the things that attracted Maryland coach Gary Williams, who edged out North Carolina State in a recruiting battle for Gilchrist.

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