John Gilchrist has a new perspective 10 years after starring in ACC tournament

Mercurial former Terp says he's changed from 'me, me, me' attitude he had at the end of his college career

March 10, 2014|By Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

Within months after leaving Maryland as a junior in the spring of 2005, John Gilchrist realized he had made a mistake.

Sitting in his apartment in Rishon LeZion, a coastal town in Israel where he had begun what would become a nomadic professional basketball career, Gilchrist wrote an email apologizing to his former coach, Gary Williams, and to former Terps assistant Dave Dickerson, by then the head coach at Tulane.

"I just basically poured my guts out to them," Gilchrist recalled on a trip back to College Park last month.

Ten years ago, as a sophomore, Gilchrist led Maryland to the 2004 ACC tournament championship, a three-game sweep over the top three seeds that ended with an overtime victory against archrival Duke. Gilchrist was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after averaging 24 points per game.

The next year, Gilchrist battled injuries, fought constantly with Williams about his role and his attitude and eventually stopped playing at halftime of Maryland's ACC tournament quarterfinal loss to Clemson in Washington.

Gilchrist told Williams that he had a sprained wrist. He would sit out the remainder of the season as the Terps advanced to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. Williams didn't dissuade Gilchrist from putting his name in the NBA draft.

"It's been an uphill battle ever since," Gilchrist said.

After going undrafted and then failing to be picked up as a summer league free agent, Gilchrist found his way to Israel, where he played four of the next five seasons. It took only a few months for Gilchrist to understand what Williams and his coaching staff were trying to do.

The email was sent.

"I told them that 'I appreciated the tough love y'all gave me,'" Gilchrist recalled writing. "At the time being in the immature mindset that I was in, I felt like I was being blamed for things unfairly. I came to understand that it's not just about what you do as a player, it's how you affect the whole team. ... At the time it was me, me, me."

'Just a kid playing ball'

As Maryland gets ready to play in its final ACC tournament this week in Greensboro, N.C. — in the same building where Gilchrist led the Terps to their last ACC tournament title, the third in school history — the 28-year-old guard's pro career might be over.

A torn ACL sustained while playing in Australia in 2010 nearly ended Gilchrist's career at age 25, but he came back to play in Kosovo and Hungary, where his career was derailed again in 2013 by a wrist injury he said he first sustained as a junior at Maryland. He participated in a tryout camp for foreign teams last month in Florida, looking for another place to latch on.

"Playing basketball [overseas] you get to see the ins and outs of the sports business. It's as rough as it gets," Gilchrist said. "You can't expect anything from anybody. Your main objective is to fit in and do what's necessary to help the team win. It's nothing about you, it's about you fitting your role."

That was something Gilchrist had a difficult time grasping throughout his three years at Maryland. As a freshman, a year after the Terps won the NCAA championship, Gilchrist chafed at playing behind senior Steve Blake, thinking he had more talent than a blue-collar player who is now in his 11th season in the NBA.

"Unpredictable," Gilchrist said in describing his personality back then.

Gilchrist blossomed as a sophomore, averaging 15.4 points and five assists, and he was voted third-team All-ACC. But the Terps never quite jelled during the regular season. Considered an NCAA tournament bubble team going into Greensboro with a 16-11 record overall and a 7-9 mark in the ACC, Maryland ran the table as Gilchrist put on one of the most electrifying performances in ACC tournament history.

He hit all four of his 3-point shots and the clinching free throw in a one-point win over third-seeded Wake Forest in the quarterfinals, then scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half to lead the Terps back from a 19-point deficit against No. 2 seed North Carolina State in the semifinals. Then came the win over top-seed Duke, when Gilchrist scored 26 and hit a huge shot toward the end of regulation.

"In recent years, think it's pretty safe to say, I don't think anyone was any more dominating that John was [in an ACC tournament]," Williams said.

While there was much speculation at the time about what he would do, Gilchrist said that he never considered going pro after his sophomore year.

"At that point, I was just a kid playing ball," he said."I viewed the world totally different than I do now, how I carry myself, things of that nature. The maturity of handling fame and money, I think it would have been a concern for me. ... Even my mom didn't think I could have handled it."

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