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Williams, Gilchrist Messages Colliding

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  January 17, 2005 COLLEGE PARK — Maryland's basketball team is at a crossroads, and the relationship between coach Gary Williams and point guard John Gilchrist could determine in which direction this season goes. Anyone who follows ACC basketball knows by now that Williams and Gilchrist butted heads in the week after blowout losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest. Williams benched the junior point guard in both games, then called him out publicly via an ESPN.com report. A situation that has been brewing since the offseason came to a head after Maryland kicked off conference play with two very difficult road games. Gilchrist did not take charge and was partly responsible for allowing the Terps to fall apart in an ugly 109-75 loss to UNC. Williams sat Gilchrist along with most of the other starters in the second half of that contest, Maryland's worst ACC defeat since 1993. Three nights later in Winston-Salem, Gilchrist did not start, allegedly because of a "missed academic assignment." He wound up playing just nine minutes in an 81-66 rout, and the TV cameras caught the moody youngster sulking on the bench during the second half. Afterward, Williams said he didn't feel Gilchrist was healthy enough to contribute, an assertion disputed by the point guard. The next day, ESPN college basketball writer Andy Katz reported that the disconnect between Williams and Gilchrist had reached crisis proportions and could threaten the Terps' season. Katz stated that Gilchrist had to be talked out of turning pro following last season and quoted Williams as saying the Virginia Beach native had "struggled with his identity" since being named the MVP of the ACC Tournament and had "issues" with practice. Spouting information obviously derived from a conversation with Williams or someone else very close to the program, Katz suggested that Gilchrist's mind was on the NBA more than the task at hand of leading Maryland. It was insinuated that Gilchrist was trying to impress the scouts rather than doing what was best for the team. Gilchrist and his parents have admitted that they have been approached by scouts and runners who praise the player's NBA potential and draft stock. "People put a lot of pressure on kids now, people outside the program," Williams said. "They sometimes say, 'You're the MVP of the ACC, maybe you ought to think about going pro. What if you get hurt if you come back next year?' They plant the seed. They know how to work the game." Williams, who often has used the media to get messages across to his team, clearly was sending a bulletin to Gilchrist via the benching and the information leaked to Katz. He basically was showing the volatile point guard who was boss. Williams publicly called the ESPN report "exaggerated" and said the biggest issue with Gilchrist was finding a happy balance between scoring and distributing. On the one hand, Gilchrist is probably the team's most dangerous offensive threat, a solid perimeter shooter and an effective slasher. He has the handle and moves to create his own shot. It says something about Maryland's makeup that the point guard leads the team in scoring, with an average of 16.5 points per game. It was an indication of Gilchrist's score-first mentality that he netted 20 points or more in five consecutive games earlier this season. Yet Maryland's flex offense comes to a standstill when Gilchrist dribbles too much or goes one-on-one. Williams realizes this team's long-term success is dependent on Gilchrist running the offense smoothly, setting up others and getting everyone involved. "John is a scorer playing the point guard position," Williams said. "When you have a scorer's mentality, you look at things one way, as opposed to a point guard who doesn't shoot much. We need John to shoot the ball; he's one of our scorers. But we also need John to pass the ball; he's our primary playmaker." Gilchrist and Williams met at length following the Wake Forest debacle and the ESPN.com report. Part of the reason the two have butted heads over the years is that both are fiery competitors who are a bit stubborn. What is agreed upon is the fact that Williams and Gilchrist both desperately want to win. For one day at least, all was right with Gilchrist and Maryland, as a home blowout of a tough Temple team raised the spirits of everyone involved with the program. Gilchrist seemed to take Williams' words to heart, scoring just four points while focusing on setting up others. As a result, much-maligned junior forward Nik Caner-Medley poured in a career-high 35 points, and seldom-used sophomore guard Mike Jones netted a career-high 21. "I thought John did a great job running the team today," Williams said. "He was just terrific." After the Temple game, Gilchrist seemed to be contrite about having become a distraction. He told reporters he apologized to Williams and his teammates. "Basically, I just told him, 'Coach, I apologize. I just want to do whatever it takes that you want me to do for this team to win,'" Gilchrist said. "That's what it is. I have to put away my personal things to go out and play, because I know that (my behavior) wasn't best for the team. It's been like a soul-searching time to sort my emotions out and just think instead of just going off my emotions. The whole week has been a thinking process for me." Post, Perimeter Problems Related While Gilchrist has been the focal point, he is far from the only problem with Maryland's offense. By far the biggest concern remains the lack of a consistent inside scorer. Most fans didn't think the Terps would miss center Jamar Smith much, but his ability to catch the ball in the post, attack the basket and finish underneath was vastly overlooked a year ago. Williams wants junior forward Travis Garrison to assume the role of post scorer, but it remains questionable whether the 6-8 junior is up to the task. Both Garrison and skinny sophomore Ekene Ibekwe have struggled mightily in recent weeks. That has led Williams to give more minutes to 7-1 sophomore Will Bowers. Bowers is not much of a threat to score at this point in his career, but the long-armed 248-pounder is a definite presence in the middle. What's most important is that Bowers is comfortable playing with his back to the basket and has enough skill to catch the ball in the post and pass it back out again. Whether Bowers can successfully defend the top centers in the ACC remains to be seen. However, his rebounding and ability to run the floor have improved dramatically from a year ago. He also has been a bit more assertive on the offensive end, showing a nifty jump hook and a developing drop-step move. Perimeter shooting is another major element missing from this squad. In the losses to UNC and Wake Forest, it was painfully obvious that Maryland does not have the consistent outside threat it's had in recent years. It would be a misnomer to call Chris McCray a "shooting" guard, as he cannot seem to make a three-pointer to save his life. The slightly built 6-5 junior made just four of 24 shots against UNC and Wake. Touted as a dead-eye shooter coming out of high school, McCray just has not shown an ability to drain open jumpers consistently, as his predecessors Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas once did. Caner-Medley is equally brutal from three-point range, although he certainly is not shy about firing them up. The 6-8 left-hander is capable of making wide-open threes, but he's an entirely different shooter when faced with any sort of defensive pressure. And why in the world are Ibekwe and fellow sophomore D.J. Strawberry launching shots from beyond the arc? Maryland's flex allows players a lot of freedom, but Williams must do a better job of spelling out what's an acceptable shot for certain individuals. In their initial three ACC games, the Terrapins made just seven of 54 three-pointers. Part of the problem is that the Terps just are not running good offense, and as a result the treys are often contested or forced.