June 21, 2005
COLLEGE PARK -- Just when you thought you had heard the last of John Gilchrist.
It appeared at season's end that the Maryland basketball program and its mercurial point guard had fashioned an amicable parting of the ways. Gilchrist announced that he was entering the NBA draft, and he refrained from saying anything negative about his time at Maryland. Terps coach Gary Williams thanked Gilchrist for his contributions to the program and wished him luck as a professional.
It seemed a civil way to end a rocky relationship that reached rock-bottom toward the end of the 2004-05 campaign. Gilchrist had no intention of returning to Maryland for his senior season and, as later became obvious, Williams did not want him back.
The professional nature of the divorce left open the possibility of a future reconciliation. That pleased ardent supporters of the program, who hoped the 2004 ACC Tournament MVP would remain a member of the Maryland basketball family.
Yet Gilchrist may have labeled himself persona non grata in College Park once and for all with the comments he made in the Washington Post in June. In his first public interview since declaring for the draft, Gilchrist criticized teammates, characterized his relationship with Williams as "nonexistent," and said basketball had ceased to be "fun" in College Park.
Williams again took the high road and refused to fire back, at least publicly. The Post article cited various sources within the Maryland program who painted Gilchrist as a belligerent player who was distracted by NBA dreams, rebellious toward the coaching staff and unaccepted as a leader by teammates.
While many fans and officials weren't happy to see the article, the Post and its Maryland basketball beat writer (Eric Prisbell) deserve credit for getting Gilchrist to talk. The Virginia Beach native's final days at Maryland and decision to turn pro had been the subject of newspaper columns and internet message boards, but to that point nobody had inspired the player to respond to the rampant speculation and accusations.
Prisbell found out where Gilchrist was training in Philadelphia, tracked him down and got the moody youngster to open up. Most fans don't notice such things, but such effort and reporting skills make a very practical difference in the quality of the coverage that surrounds their favorite teams.
Among the highlights of the article was Gilchrist's admission that he "clashed" with Williams and never sought a personal relationship with his coach. One of the last meaningful conversations between the two took place in the spring of 2004, when Gilchrist told Williams that his longtime girlfriend was pregnant.
"He was my coach," Gilchrist said. "I looked at it like business."
One indication of teammates' feelings toward Gilchrist came before last season, when quiet classmate Chris McCray and seldom-used senior Mike Grinnon were voted captains by a wide margin. Gilchrist said his fellow Terps simply did not match his intensity on the court.
"Certain people aren't going to approach the game as seriously as other people," Gilchrist said. "That's the thing that made me upset. I would come to practice and be in a zone. Certain people are laughing and joking, and they're looking at me like, ÎThis guy is taking it too serious.' In my opinion, this is my livelihood. When you have guys disrespecting the game, I didn't really appreciate that."
Gilchrist reiterated his belief, hinted at during the season, that he bore an unfair amount of burden for Maryland's struggles in 2004-05. He said the criticism of the coaching staff and inability
to get along with teammates made the game less
"On the court, I just wasn't having fun anymore," Gilchrist said. "I felt like everything was coming back on me. If anyone made a mistake, it was ÎJohn, why did you give him the ball?' I just felt there was too much on me. (Williams) felt I could take it, and I could because I kept my mouth closed and didn't say nothing."
Gilchrist claimed he "sacrificed" individual performance and "held back" his ability to benefit teammates last season. He said playing at Maryland became so difficult that he could not wait to complete his career.
"It got to the point where I thought, ÎIt is almost over.' I knew this was my last year. They knew it was my last year. No matter what, I wasn't coming back," Gilchrist said. "I admire guys like Terence Morris, Byron Mouton and Tahj Holden -- team guys who really helped the team win. But me, I have so much more at stake. I couldn't have another subpar year and fall off the radar completely. Eventually, I was going to have to let my talent show. I had to stop holding my talent back."
Now the question is whether the relationship between Williams and Gilchrist can ever be repaired. At this point, it appears that Gilchrist will join the likes of Exree Hipp as a former player not welcome back to College Park by the fiery head coach.
That's a shame because, like it or not, Gilchrist always will hold a major place in Maryland basketball lore. The powerfully built, 6-3 point guard led the Terrapins to the only ACC Tournament title of the Williams era, an accomplishment some diehard fans rank alongside the national championship in terms of importance.
Another strong season in College Park might have resulted in Gilchrist having his No. 11 jersey raised into the rafters at the Comcast Center. Now it's a good bet that he won't even be able to get complimentary tickets to future games from the Terps.
Williams told ESPN analyst Andy Katz that Gilchrist had to be "talked out of" turning pro following his break-out sophomore season. In retrospect, it may have been better for both sides had Gilchrist instead declared for the NBA draft back then. His stock would have been higher, and the program probably would have been better off without a player who didn't really want to be in College Park anyway.
Recruiting Questions Continue
Are Tyrell Biggs and Sean McCurdy better than David Neal and Parrish Brown? That's the question many knowledgeable fans are asking in the wake of another seemingly disjointed recruiting effort by the Maryland basketball program.
Maryland initially made Biggs and McCurdy its top targets for 2005. The team backed off both after Williams saw them play at summer camps and was not impressed.
The Terps then swung and missed on several prospects (Marcus Williams, Arinze Onuaku, Uche Echefu) before finally ending up with Neal and Parrish, neither of whom were highly regarded by talent evaluators.
Neal is a fundamentally sound yet undersized power forward who most scouts don't feel has the athleticism to play in the ACC. The local (Good Counsel) product was being recruited by the likes of Holy Cross, of the Patriot League, before signing with Maryland.
Brown is a relative unknown out of Kennedy-King Community College in Chicago. The 6-1, 175-pounder averaged 22 points per game and earned all-region honors last season as a sophomore. It's too early to say how Brown will work out, but it seems undeniable that he was a last-minute pickup (signed on May 26) for a program that desperately needed a backup point guard.
What doesn't make sense is why Maryland wasn't recruiting a point guard all along. Williams knew Gilchrist would not return in 2005-06, and it can be argued that the program would be better off with a high school recruit who could be around for four years, as opposed to a juco prospect who will play for only two seasons at most.
Meanwhile, Biggs and McCurdy, both of whom listed Maryland No. 1 at one point in the recruiting process, ended up at Pittsburgh and Arkansas, respectively.
Biggs was rated No. 62, while Neal checked in at No. 182, in the final senior class rankings by PrepStars.com. McCurdy saw his stock slip considerably, from preseason Top 100 to postseason No. 207. It should be noted that Maryland already has a commitment from a highly rated point guard in the Class of 2006, Virginia product Eric Hayes (No. 54).
On the surface, it would seem that Maryland's recruiting strategy for 2004-05 was flawed and poorly implemented. The coaches put considerable effort into two players (Biggs, McCurdy) they ultimately did not want, and they came in late (and missed) on prospects the program did covet. According to sources close to the staff, the Terps' recruiting plan was revamped several times during the 2004-05 season.
That failure to identify talent at an earlier stage in the game seemed to cost Maryland this time, and it led to late offers going to lower-caliber prospects.
Many observers believe Maryland will have a much clearer recruiting strategy now that Rob Moxley has been added to the staff. The former Charlotte assistant already is well-respected in the Baltimore-Washington region, and he has built strong relationships with several key high school and AAU coaches.
There is considerable talent in the local area for 2006 and 2007, and early indications are that Maryland is on top of its home turf. Thanks largely to Moxley's recommendations, the Terps already have offered several rising juniors, such as DeMatha swingman Austin Freeman, Towson Catholic forward Donta Green and Calvert Hall center Braxton Dupree.
That's a notable change for a program that in past years often has waited too long to determine which players to pursue.