For Ex-Terp Gilchrist, No Holding Back

John Gilchrist
John Gilchrist looks over his shoulder during a basketball camp at St. Joseph's on Friday. Gilchrist is temporarily living in Philadelphia while he waits for the NBA Draft. (Joseph Kaczmarek - AP)
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 4, 2005

PHILADELPHIA -- Sixteen pairs of sneakers lined the windowsill inside Room 303. A worn basketball lay on the king-size bed. And three items rested on the night table: "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," the Bible and a journal belonging to the downtown loft's temporary resident, John Gilchrist.

The scene represented a simple existence for a complicated young man who has confounded Maryland fans, coaches and teammates with his personality as much as he has dazzled them with his play. He was the face of one of Gary Williams's most rewarding teams, which won the 2004 ACC tournament, and one of his most disappointing, which failed to reach the NCAA tournament in 2005 for the first time in a dozen years.

Gilchrist, during his first extensive public comments since he entered himself in the NBA draft, said he had no regrets about his turbulent final college season, which he said he knew from the beginning would be his last. He said the game ceased to be "fun" last season, said his former teammates failed to match his intensity in practice and characterized his relationship with Williams as nonexistent.

Williams this week declined to comment publicly on Gilchrist, saying only that he wishes him the best of luck as a professional. But Gilchrist's claims were viewed as outlandish by various sources within Maryland's program, who paint him as a belligerent player distracted by the lure of the NBA, rebellious toward Williams's long-successful philosophy and unaccepted as a leader by teammates.

Gilchrist, 20, says he is happy now, but as he continues to train here for the upcoming NBA draft, he remains an enigma to many outsiders. NBA personnel view his final season as a significant red flag, which could make the point guard one of the last players selected on June 28, a possibility he accepts.

"No one controls my destiny but me," Gilchrist said. "As a college point guard, a lot of your destiny is controlled off your team."

Gilchrist's statistics -- 13.9 points and 5.5 assists per game -- did not completely reflect the erratic nature of his season, which concluded with an injury that forced him to miss the Terrapins' run to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament.

After being named the most valuable player of the 2004 ACC tournament, Gilchrist spent much of his junior season clashing with Williams about his role, a situation that worsened as the team continued to struggle. Gilchrist said he never sought a personal association with Williams -- "He was my coach; I looked at it like business." In fact, one of the only conversations of a personal nature Gilchrist recalled having with Williams occurred in spring 2004, when the player told his coach that his longtime girlfriend was pregnant.

The two have not met since a talk at the onset of the NIT run in mid-March that lasted a "good couple minutes," Gilchrist said. During the meeting, Gilchrist reaffirmed his NBA intentions and Williams told him, "If you ever need help talking to the NBA teams, you have my blessing."

Beginning of the End

After starring in the 2004 ACC tournament, Gilchrist said he was a different player last season because he "sacrificed" individual performance to benefit his teammates.

Those within Maryland's program, however, said Gilchrist grew complacent following his ACC tournament performance and returned slower and out of shape. He was outplayed in both preseason exhibitions and several regular season games by point guards previously thought to be inferior.

The role that helped turn former Terp Steve Francis into a star was designed for Gilchrist, who rejected it, sources said, adding that Gilchrist received the appropriate amount of criticism for not tending to responsibilities that most often involved playing defense.

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