Terps PG and coach think alike
John Gilchrist didn't need two years to realize his coach, Gary Williams, was a carbon copy of him.
He knew as soon as he was recruited to Maryland that he was the perfect point guard for Williams -- they are both passionate, emotional and instinctual leaders.
"He's an easy coach to play for -- if you play hard and give it all you can," Gilchrist said. "You can't be a sensitive guy. If you can't deal with a coach screaming at you, how are you going to deal with that at the next level, or even at a job? It's like any employee-boss relationship. When he tells me what to do, I do it and try my best to not make him mad."
Gilchrist understands that his coach's demands often lead to results.
"He's always respected my play and all he asks is to play hard," Gilchrist said. "We believe in his system. A lot of guys have made a good living, feeding their families, because of this system."
So, far, the Williams-Gilchrist relationship has worked quite well -- so much so that Maryland's ACC tournament title win over Duke last March (behind Gilchrist's 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists) should be viewed as the precursor to a potential Final Four in 2005.
The Terps could be a preseason top-10 pick, even though they might not be selected to finish higher than fourth in the ACC, easily the nation's toughest conference this season.
"I can honestly say we have a Final Four caliber-talent team," Gilchrist said.
Overall, the Williams-Gilchrist relationship is as smooth as the one Williams had with Steve Blake during the Terps' 2002 national title run.
"We might see how a game should go two different ways," Gilchrist said. "He might call me over to discuss it or I'll just go over to him to talk to him. We always have a good flow of communication."
That doesn't mean Gilchrist isn't absolved of Williams' wrath, even when the team was on a relaxed trip to Italy in August.
"Coach knows how good John is and how good he can be," said Maryland forward Travis Garrison. "Coach Williams keeps pushing John to his limits. You saw what happened in the (ACC) tournament. John's game excelled to a high point. Coach keeps pushing him and it will get to the point where John's game is unstoppable."
Williams said he had to hold back his emotions when he played at Maryland in the late 1960s. He said players were more like "robots," because they weren't supposed to pump their fists after they score.
"Players show more emotion now and I'm not going to take that away as long as they play hard," Williams said. "John works hard. John goes about his business and is consistent. He showed that he's hard to guard in the ACC tournament against really good point guards and hopefully he'll pick it up from there."
The player-coach relationship is even more impressive when you realize that, unlike Blake, who had Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter as a buffer between him and Williams for three of his four years, Gilchrist has been on his own.
Gilchrist, a freshman during Blake's senior year, didn't have the help of veteran players a year ago when he took over the team. There also was no true backup point guard, causing Gilchrist to lead the team in minutes (34), scoring (15.4 ppg), assists (5) and steals (1.8) in starting 30 of 32 games.
"There was no point guard to push him," Maryland guard Chris McCray said. "If he messed up, there was no one on his backside watching him. Coach took it upon himself to push John. All John wants to do is win. That's the same thing with those two."
Williams noted that, two years ago, if Blake "screwed up in the game, then so what," because he had Gilchrist behind him. Gilchrist hasn't had that luxury.
"Right or wrong, there was a lot of pressure on John to be successful because we didn't have another point in the program," Williams said. "He was in a situation last year where he was trying to learn how to lead a team at the same time he was playing against some of the best point guards in the country."
The Terps struggled for much of the '03-'04 season, sitting at 13-10 overall (4-8 ACC) before winning three of their final four league games to ensure an NCAA bid. Maryland then made it to the second round, losing to Syracuse by two after edging UTEP in round one.
The Terps had a few hiccups in the offseason. Junior college transfer point guard Sterling Ledbetter was in a car accident but recovered well enough to be Gilchrist's backup when practice starts Oct. 16. Nik Caner-Medley got in a bit of a legal scrap (arrested for disorderly conduct in his hometown of Portland, Maine in July). No decision has been made whether to charge him.
The August trip to Italy went smoothly, with the Terps getting in their necessary tourist stops as well as getting tested on the court, going 3-2 on the tour. The hit of the trip was Garrison, who averaged 16.4 points and 11 rebounds in five games. He had one game where he scored 18 and grabbed 18 boards and put up 27 points and 12 boards in another.
The good vibes flowed for Caner-Medley (16.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), McCray (13 ppg, 4 rpg) and Ekene Ibekwe (10.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Ledbetter and freshman James Gist weren't eligible to go on the trip since they were newcomers.
The players also raved about the improvements of sophomore D.J. Strawberry, saying he can play three positions and is shooting the ball better, and guard Mike Jones and forward Hassan Fofana are becoming increasingly confident.
But if the Terps are going to somehow stay ahead of Wake Forest, North Carolina and Georgia Tech, then they must have Gilchrist be the point guard that led them to the ACC tournament title crown. He should be if he continues to act like an extension of Williams on the court.
"We're very similar as far as our passion for the game," Gilchrist said. "He recruits the guys who play hard. You don't have to be a blue-chip guy to come here. He knows you'll fit the mold of this program. He's a hard-nosed coach. If he says get it done, then he expects you to get it done. It's a perfect match because he shows you how to win."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.