Where They At?
John Gilchrist has grown; will your perception of him?
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
In August of 2008, a 24-year-old John Gilchrist had to make an unenviable decision: accept a plane ticket awaiting him, a ticket that would fly him to Europe and a six-figure hoops contract, or maintain his bedside vigil near an ailing grandma. Facing tough choices on the court is par for a point guard’s course. Make the right choice, win the game, the wrong one, lose. Facing tough choices off the court concern a young player less often, though, and the consequences are often more severe. Make the right choice, live regret free, the wrong one, a heavy heart can last a lifetime. Weighing his options, much like he does when guiding an offense, John made the instinctive move.
“My grandmother’s really, really close to me, and she had to get triple-bypass surgery. If I woulda run away to play, it really woulda bothered me, with her being in critical condition,” says Gilchrist. “I thanked the team for the offer, but let them know that I wasn’t ready to go.”
Hearken back four years to John Gilchrist’s days at College Park. After a spectacular sophomore year, one that saw him elevate his play in big games, John was every bit as hyped as fellow-ACC guards, Jarrett Jack and Raymond Felton. During his junior year, however, Gilchrist developed a reputation as a me-first, you-never type player. Prematurely focused on his soon-to-be pro career, Gilchrist drew the ire of Terps’ coach, Gary Williams. Public perception was set: Punk; cocky; headcase; uncoachable—all of these described how people viewed JG. “Family man” was not one of the labels bestowed upon the chiseled and tatted kid from Virginia.
“When I was 19-20, I had a lot of things going on. I had people in my ear, I was playing and working out and I was trying to be a student. When you’re young, it’s a lot to handle,” says Gilchrist. “I give these young guys, the ones that come in to all the money and fame and still walk the straight and narrow, a lot of respect. You’re 19 and you have to be a man and be mature. I can admit, at that point in my life I wasn’t ready for all of it. I had to be humbled, and I was.”
The first, and still most humbling experience, came in the June of 2005 when 30 teams passed on drafting John because of maturity questions. With nowhere to play in the USA, Gilchrist took his reputation, and solid pg skills, overseas. Between that summer and August of ’08, JG played different roles on a plethora of European teams, from Israel to France, from getting cut midseason to starting. At first it was just about basketball, about playing his way into the NBA. But at some point it became about so much more. It became about growth, about correcting public perception. And while he may not have always shined oncourt in Europe, a rehabilitation was taking place off of it.
“Playing overseas is a good experience,” JG says, surprisingly. “It gives you a lot of time to think, mature and grow up. You go from being a college athlete where your hand is held through the process, to being on your own, learning how to take care of yourself. The average age on my team was like 35-years-old; so the time I spent around those guys taught me how to be professional and conduct myself.”
Growth is easy to discuss, lessons easy to say learned, but Gilchrist’s has manifested itself, most notably, in his reconciliation with Coach Williams.
A few years ago, while playing in Israel, John manned up and sought to right some college wrongs. The first part of this process involved calling Dave Dickerson. Now the head coach at Tulane, Dickerson was the man on Williams’ staff in Maryland responsible for Gilchrist’s recruitment. After having a “heart-to-heart” over the phone, thanking Dickerson and “apologizing for taking his opportunity so lightly,” word got back to Williams of the conversation. After exchanging emails—playing overseas made it hard to schedule a face-to-face—the Terps’ coach and Gilchrist agreed to “let bygones be bygones,” according to JG.
So two summers ago, that’s where John Gilchrist found himself. Making amends for his past and planning his future, things looked to be headed in the right direction—finally. Then his grandma got sick. And that’s when, in the face of adversity, JG showed how far he’s really come.
After spurning the international offer, John had to find a place to play locally. With most unaware or unmoved by his growth, JG had limited options. It all seemed to have worked out in the end, though, with skills overshadowing old doubts, as the D-League came calling.
Invited to Colorado for the 14ers training camp, Gilchrist seemed to have the last spot on the team locked up. It wasn’t destined for him to play for pay in ’08, though, as Eddie Gill, the 14ers point guard in ’07, was cut by the New Jersey Nets and added in John’s stead, taking the final roster spot in the 23rd hour.
John returned home to Virginia Beach contract free. The ABA was his last hope, and a team in North Dakota sent him a plane ticket. But, again, it wasn’t destined to be, as the team folded before he could hit the airport. The 2008-2009 season was officially a wash for John.
A few years ago, these tough pills may have swallowed Gilchrist up, but not now, not the new version. Instead, John graciously accepted the rough breaks, using the year to volunteer in a Virginia high school, work a part-time job, all the while playing and working-out with a local EBA (Eastern Basketball Alliance) team, the Tru Hope Trailblazers.
“While I was home, I took the opportunity to do a lot of soul searching. I realized the blessing of being able to play basketball. I gained a new perspective,” says an audibly wizened Gilchrist, aged by the long year.
“Basically, things happen for a reason. I firmly believe that. I love to play basketball. But so do a lot of people. You can go from city to city, park to park, and find guys with great talent. You can be like, ‘wow, why is this guy not playing somewhere?’ [This year], I realized I don’t want to be one of those cases. I came to realize it’s about more than playing basketball; it’s about putting yourself in the right positions. Hopefully, after doing that, I’ll catch a break.”
This past August, Gilchrist received his first such “break.” An Australian team, the Adelaide 36ers, reached out to JG, offering a two-week tryout. After showing off the skills that earned him national recognition while balling in the ACC, the team extended their initial offer. Now mid-September, John’s been there six weeks, and it appears like he’s going to be Down Under all NBL season.
Gilchrist says the turbulent past year-and-a-half was a “blessing.” He says that he learned a lot. He says all of it like he means it, too. It’s fair to say, JG seems to have figured life out, taking the correct road— as the decision with his grandmother proved— no matter how hard that is. It’s also fair to say all of this seems to have aged him beyond his years.
“I just turned 25, I feel like a grown man, working hard, hoping and praying for an opportunity. I want to play until I’m 35. Then I want to be a high school coach,” says John.
Having made peace with his piece of the basketball pie, John Gilchrist occasionally still dreams of playing in the NBA. Only time will tell if that’s how his tale will be told ages and ages hence.