The Maryland men’s basketball program honored the 2004 ACC tournament champion team during the Terps’ game against Michigan State Feb. 29. Tournament MVP John Gilchrist was included in the warm welcome back, and he’s excited to see this year’s team enter the postseason 16 years after his legendary run.
“At the end of the day it’s a breath of fresh air,” Gilchrist said on Glenn Clark Radio March 2, adding, “it makes me feel good to come back to Maryland and people appreciate me for the effort that I gave to the university.”
Gilchrist was happy to be welcomed back after his tenure in College Park, Md., came to an unceremonious end. In 2004-05, one season after his magical ACC tournament run, Gilchrist struggled with injuries and clashed with coaches regarding his role, which ultimately led him to leave after his junior year. He went undrafted and played pro ball in Israel.
“When I left school after my junior year, I heard a lot of things come out, [talking] about my character and things for being selfish and making me leave the team high and dry,” Gilchrist said, adding, “I didn’t want to be a distraction. I wanted to play hard.”
But it was hard for Gilchrist to not stand out. As his college career trended in the wrong direction as a junior, Gilchrist said that “what a lot of people really didn’t know was the back story.” He welcomed the birth of his daughter during the offseason between his sophomore and junior years.
But in March 2004, Gilchrist shined as part of Maryland’s final ACC tournament win (and its first since Len Bias and Co. won in 1984). He scored 30 in the semifinals against NC State and 26 against Duke in the finals.
It remains the last time the Terps have won a conference tournament.
“We always play to the end of the buzzer,” Gilchrist said on the ACC champion team. “Being a champion, it starts in your heart.”
Gilchrist sees the same championship potential in players like guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who is averaging 34.5 minutes per game, a stat that some may worry about as the postseason approaches. Turgeon has Cowan on the floor for a reason, Gilchrist said, calling the senior the “quarterback” and “the engine of our team.”
“These guys play with their heart,” Gilchrist said. “They pulled out some gritty wins, they stuck together, they haven’t folded through the ups and downs.”
Sixteen years after his own postseason glory, Gilchrist is excited to see Maryland try to make another historic run, as the Terps look to claim a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship against Michigan March 8 and go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
“At that point [in March], it’s just mano-a-mano, so that’s what makes it so special and that’s why people love to watch playoffs in the pros and like to watch March Madness in college,” Gilchrist said. “It’s the will to win.”
Gilchrist is already planning his trip to Atlanta in April for the Final Four, confident that the Terps can make a run this postseason.
“I get inspired just watching the Terps compete this year because they never give up,” Gilchrist said, “so you’ve got to respect that.”
After his professional career ended, Gilchrist remained in basketball as a high school coach in Virginia Beach, Va., where he also teaches. He said he models himself after his former head coach, Gary Williams, in terms of motivating players and running a program.
“I have aspirations actually to go to the highest level of coaching,” Glichrist said. “Maybe college. That’s a hopeful dream of mine.”
For more from Gilchrist, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics