- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

Maryland guard John Gilchrist is no longer a “tourist” when the ACC season begins today. Now, he’s the Terrapins’ guide.

Following a string of top efforts by the sophomore guard, which recently helped him earn ACC Player of the Week honors, he leads the Terps (7-2) into conference play at Florida State (10-1). Last season Gilchrist watched from the bench as senior guard Steve Blake led the team, but this season Gilchrist has become Maryland’s offensive leader. He may not always be the Terps’ leading scorer, but the offense flows through him.

“I don’t fear anyone,” he said. “This is nothing new to me. All my life I’ve been underrated. It makes it easier to sneak up on people and keep building. You have nothing to lose. Some people play to win.”

It’s not arrogance. He’s the son of a Norfolk bus driver who didn’t tolerate nonsense any more than Gilchrist’s uncle, a military man with whom Gilchrist spent summers. Gilchrist developed a thick skin that repels coach Gary Williams’ rages during games. There is little that intimidates Gilchrist. When neighborhood playground games include death threats from onlookers you learn to deal with adversity.

“My father would come home from a hard day of work in the rain or snow and be tired and want everything to be straight,” Gilchrist said. “He didn’t want us acting up so he would yell. I’m used to that.”

Not that Gilchrist wasn’t in tears after he played poorly in a 78-77 overtime loss to West Virginia on Dec.7. The emotions sometimes find their way around the on-court scowl that hides the jovial point guard who made teammates laugh last season by yelling at his hands when he missed a pass in practice.

Gilchrist returned much more determined this season. When the Terps lost two straight against teams that challenged his outside shooting by playing a 2-3 zone, Gilchrist spent several late nights in the gym pumping hundreds of jumpers. Gilchrist followed that effort with the ACC Player of the Week award after collecting 42 points in victories over then-No.1 Florida and Pepperdine before following with nine points and eight assists in an 85-58 win over UNC Greensboro on Tuesday.

“I have a leadership role, but I wouldn’t dub it my team,” he said. “I hit a freshman wall through [last] year. This year should be a smoother ride. You’re more experienced and understand what you’re doing. You’re smarter about what you do.”

Gilchrist slices through defenses more effectively this season, often finding seams against zones for layups. He learned as much as he could from Blake about quarterbacking the offense.

“He’s got a bright future ahead of him,” said Blake, who plays for the Washington Wizards. “He’s got a lot of things to learn, but I definitely think he’s going to be successful. [Williams] wants to see everyone involved. John has to keep his head on straight and not get too frustrated at times.”

Williams showed patience with Gilchrist, though there have been moments of madness around the bench. Gilchrist is still learning and mistakes send Williams into orbit. Still, Williams clearly enjoys Gilchrist, who often calls the coach “a genius.”

“I’ve coached all different kinds of point guards,” Williams said. “Each guy has his own personality. John is more demonstrative. The big thing is getting through to the other players. It allows them to assume the role of leader easier.”

Gilchrist falls into a personal zone and sways during the playing of the national anthem. Last year, he looked around road arenas and appeared to be in awe of some of college basketball’s meccas along Tobacco Road. The second time through will be different.

“You go around and you see all the places you dreamed of playing in,” he said. “You look at all the jerseys in the rafters, but this year you go in with a different mindset. I’m here to win ball games, not sight see. It’s more business oriented. I just feel like I’m living the dream.”

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