- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

John Gilchrist discovered the true meaning of intensity while competing with top college players during a weeklong camp in Santa Barbara, Calif., in July.

“I was going through the lane, and I get this tough jab in my side, and it’s Michael Jordan,” Gilchrist said. “It shocked me. He was in a zone. It was like Game7 of the NBA Finals in a pickup game.”

If Gilchrist can’t match Jordan’s legendary intensity, he nonetheless brings his own jolt of energy to the No.15 Maryland Terrapins with his ability to drive the lane to recharge a sagging offense and draw fouls in the process.

Gilchrist’s energetic play sent the Terrapins on a three-day tear to the ACC tournament title last March, and it makes him the player most likely to follow former Terps Juan Dixon and Steve Blake to the NBA.

Gilchrist has envisioned such a goal since his playground days of pretending to “shoot like Larry Bird, play like Magic Johnson and jump like Michael Jordan.” He now studies Stephon Marbury, Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson looking for role models.

“I love the game so much that I might take on other roles to help the team win,” Gilchrist said. “I’ve never really labeled myself. I’m a competitor. It’s what I live for.”

Surely, Gilchrist’s role will vary on nights when opponents dictate whether the Terps play a small or big lineup. Maryland’s 10-deep rotation permits flexible matchups that allow Gilchrist to become the leading scorer some nights and a role player on others.

But what Maryland consistently needs from Gilchrist is leadership.

Point guards always are the foundation of coach Gary Williams’ offense. If Gilchrist penetrates the zone, the Terps can win regularly. If the offense stagnates, he’s the point of a smothering press defense. Either way, Gilchrist needs to be in charge.

“There’s going to be so many close games that if you don’t have a guy out there who knows how to make the right decision, you’re going to be in trouble,” Williams said. “To get to March [Madness], you have to have a good point guard.”

Gilchrist spent his first year learning from Blake. He followed with a solid sophomore season that peaked when Maryland shocked three straight higher seeds to win the ACC tournament and came within a basket of reaching the Sweet16.

Gilchrist then spent the offseason seeking leadership lessons from Dixon, whom he calls “Mr. Maryland.”

“Leadership is earned,” Gilchrist said. “You just do what you do at a high level and people will ask you to do more and you’ll want to do more. I took a few cues from Juan Dixon. He knows how to control your team, get along with coaches and put it into one equation.”

But spending the week with Jordan proved equally valuable.

“You just try to take a little piece of his knowledge,” Gilchrist said. “Everything about him says excellence. You don’t notice it until you’re in his presence, the presence of greatness.”

That desire for greatness sometimes spills into frustration. Gilchrist slammed a water bottle on the bench during a timeout after a defensive breakdown in a recent exhibition game. Being a role model means making no mistakes or tolerating your teammates’ miscues, even in a meaningless game.

But teammates don’t want a prima donna, so Gilchrist continues to learn better ways to support their styles. He now knows how forward Travis Garrison likes to receive passes or where forward Nik Caner-Medley wants the ball on the right corner.

“The biggest difference is the seasoning process I’ve been through,” he said. “You realize what’s important and what’s not. You realize small things do matter because they pile up to equal big things.”

Big things — like a pro career. Gilchrist is enjoying college life now, unsure whether it will end in one year or two.

“It’s hard not to really listen to the whispers of what everyone’s saying,” he said, “but I enjoy my college life more now than ever. As a freshman, I was so focused on basketball I didn’t really enjoy my college experience. You never think something that comes so natural to you can create such a stir. I just try to enjoy where I’m at. I love it here.”

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