Terps' Gist reaching for new heights

College Basketball Preview

Maryland Men

November 07, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- Every day in practice since his freshman year, Maryland senior forward James Gist has looked with envy at the banners of honored jerseys hanging from the rafters at Comcast Center.

"I want to have my name up there," he said.

It's a lofty goal for someone who never thought he would go to college, let alone play Division I basketball. The game was once something that kept Gist out of trouble. Now, he said, Maryland basketball is his life.

"It means everything," Gist said. "This is what I'm here for. Since I signed that contract [letter of intent] coming in my freshman year, this is what I want to do. This is where I want to be."

And the Terps need him this season more than ever before.

With three of the top four scorers from last year's NCAA tournament team gone, Gist is the Terps' leading returning scorer and rebounder, one of the top shot-blockers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Maryland's veteran leader.

The Terps won't have him for the season opener Sunday against North Florida, however, because it was announced yesterday that Gist and forward Landon Milbourne will be serving one-game suspensions because they participated in an unsanctioned tournament in Ocean City in April.

Gist suffered through two back-to-back appearances in the National Invitation Tournament, but he also played a role in helping the program advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. That experience is vital on a team filled with six freshmen, but so are his averages of 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds from last season - statistics the team is counting on to improve this season.

"He's always had the moves; he just never had the opportunity to show them," senior teammate Bambale Osby said. "He could always shoot, he could always dribble, but now he has to do it for the team to win. Last year, we had facilitators. ... Now he needs to step up and do it."

Gist has deemed it "his team."

"This is my fourth year here at Maryland," he said. "I think I've earned the right to say that. ... This year, I feel it's my turn to be the one everybody looks up to. It's my turn to be that guy on the team. I'm ready to step up into that position. All the years I've been here, I've been wanting to be that guy, and I haven't been able to because of the guys in front of me."

It's a position in which he once never dreamed of finding himself.

The son of military parents, Gist was born in Turkey and lived in Nebraska and then Germany, where his family resided for four years before moving to Washington, where he wound up at a public middle school in the city.

"There wasn't really too much to look forward to out of that," Gist said. "I never, ever thought that I'd be in this position, never thought I'd be in college, never thought I'd be playing college basketball. When I started playing basketball for good, I just did it because it was something to do. It was fun, and it kept me out of trouble."

So did his transition to Good Counsel High in Silver Spring, where he averaged 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds as a senior and caught the attention of top-tier schools, including Kentucky and Georgetown.

Gist's recruiting process began after Sept. 11, when his father, who now works for the Air Force but is no longer in the military, had to go to Korea and missed his son's junior season at Good Counsel. Gist, his mother Linda, who now works for the Department of Justice, and his two sisters navigated their way through the phone calls and letters from coaches until he chose Maryland over Providence and Virginia.

"What he's done is he started as a back-to-the-basket player here, which he was in high school, and has expanded his game," said coach Gary Williams, who has gained enough confidence in Gist to try him at small forward. "He's gotten to where he can shoot jump shots. He knows the offense where he can get open and he can run the court. I think he's seeing ways to score on the offensive glass. Now, he's got to put all that together and have a great year.

"A guy like James, there's no reason why he couldn't average 10 rebounds a game or eight rebounds a game. That's very possible given his ability."

After consecutive appearances in the NIT, though, a rumor surfaced that Gist might transfer to George Washington - a situation he recently remembered as "the funniest thing ever."

In 2006, Gist was in a restaurant with his girlfriend when his cell phone rang. It was former teammate Parrish Brown, asking Gist if he planned to transfer to GW. That call was followed by another five minutes later, this time from former teammate D.J. Strawberry.

"I was like, `Nah, Parrish just called and asked me was I transferring?' I said, `Where'd y'all hear that from?' D.J.'s like, `I'm looking on TV right now. They're talking about it on Comcast.'

"I wanted to beat GW at this point," Gist said, laughing. "I'm thinking about beating GW, and they're talking about transferring to GW."

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