Playing With His Emotions

John Gilchrist: The Maryland point guard shows his burning desire with every grimace and chest bump. But to some, that fire raises an alarm.

College Basketball

December 19, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- He has jumped in unadulterated joy and collapsed onto the floor in utter devastation. He has smiled and scowled, strutted and sulked. He has flailed his fist in anger and pounded his chest in celebration.

And Maryland point guard John Gilchrist has done all those things through the course of a single game.

"That is not fake," said Bill Cochrane, Gilchrist's former coach at Salem High (Va.). "That's just John being John. He's not a typical personality, not a typical player."

Cochrane has seen the Terrapins on television enough this season to know that not much has changed. Gilchrist is still the same energetic and emotional personality who honed his craft and his confidence in the talent-rich Virginia Beach area, developing an obsession with winning so severe that the junior can barely speak when his team loses.

Through all of the facial expressions, arm thrusts and body gyrations, Gilchrist, whose physical and confident style sometimes toes the line between fearless and reckless, admits that his on-court demeanor is spurred by a burning desire to succeed.

"A lot of times when you're playing and you try to win, you do things that you don't even think about," Gilchrist said. "When the game gets close, I just blank out and try to play hard. I don't know any other way to play.

"I can't change that. I can't be a passive type of guy. I've tried from time to time, but why hold back your God-given talent? I take this real seriously. I love the challenge. In fact, I live for it."

In one respect, this season, which gets more urgent tonight when the Terps host Florida State in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener, has presented Gilchrist with a new set of challenges. Sure, the questions about whether he can adequately replace Steve Blake, the heady point guard who helped Maryland to two Final Fours and the program's first national championship, have mostly been put to rest.

Gilchrist squashed them one by one last March when he engineered one of the most dominant individual performances in ACC tournament history, averaging 24 points, 6.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds and two steals in leading the Terps to coach Gary Williams' first title in the event.

But with that performance, which vaulted Gilchrist into the pantheon of the nation's top point guards, came more visibility and higher expectations.

"I'm just coming to the point of learning how to deal with it and not turning it into any added pressure," said Gilchrist, who leads the Terps in scoring (14.4), assists (7.1) and steals (3.0). "The little things you did before, now, they are under the microscope. You just have to be yourself and try not to be perfect because nobody is perfect."

Negative outbursts

This season, the 20-year-old has gotten as much publicity for his antics as for his scoring output.

He spiked a plastic water bottle after being removed from the Terps' second exhibition game, against Carleton University. After Maryland lost at Wisconsin last month, Gilchrist, who had just suffered through a 2-for-14 shooting performance, fell to the floor in despair and remained there until teammate Chris McCray helped him up, prompting one national reporter to write that Gilchrist behaved like the Terps had just lost the national championship.

"I didn't like what he did," Williams said. "I told him that wasn't necessary, no need to draw that kind of attention to yourself."

Gilchrist also was criticized by an opposing player after the Terps were handled by George Washington in the final of the BB&T Classic two weeks ago in a game in which Gilchrist nearly rescued the Terps with a take-charge performance down the stretch, repeatedly thumping his chest and banging the floor with his hands.

Colonials guard J.R. Pinnock, who knows Gilchrist because he also prepped in Virginia Beach, told a group of reporters that the Terp "plays with so much emotion that sometimes he can get carried away," and that Gilchrist was "saying stuff" to his Maryland teammates.

The Terps came to his defense immediately. "You can't make a comment like that unless you are his teammate," said junior forward Nik Caner-Medley. "If you ask any of us, he didn't [go too far]. We love every minute of it. His intensity is a direct relation to his love for the game and his passion for winning. We're behind him 100 percent however he wants to show that."

It isn't unusual for Gilchrist to hug teammates after good plays or pat them on the head after mistakes. He'll also throw his arms up in the air and passionately express his disapproval.

"His emotions are positive," said freshman forward James Gist. "Somebody has to do it, to be able to push us, to let people know when they're messing up."

Gilchrist was not voted a captain by his teammates, who instead designated senior Mike Grinnon and junior Chris McCray, but Williams said Gilchrist's position automatically translates into a leadership role.

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