Part III: Alert and Prepared
AA: When you returned to the U.S. to play in The NBA Development League (NBDL), what did you bring back from that experience that will help you reach your dream of playing in the NBA?
JG: My plan is to get into a situation where I can prove who I am. Prove what I’m all about – I never believed I was a bad guy. I’ve had this thing when I was young where I was more of a loner that used to be misunderstood. When I’d come and work out with my teammates and practice, no one really knew who I was. That’s kind of hard. One of the qualities of a leader is that you’ve got to be transparent. You’ve got to know who you are because you’re held accountable. I’ve had a lot of lessons of how to open up to my teammates and people around the organization. I’ve experienced a lot of growth and I feel I am ready. I’m not worried about the basketball. I’ve played basketball my whole life. I pretty much realize that’s going to take care of itself.
AA: It’s filling out the other details. It’s about the team experience and being a part of an organization – the give and take thing.
AA: How have the qualities of persistence and motivation – characteristics you must have – contributed to your goals as a professional basketball player?
JG: To me it’s pretty much the only way that I know how to be. I can’t quit in life. It’s something that I don’t do. People that quit in life end up doing really bad. Like how can you quit in life? Those are the people that end up on drugs and basically you self-destruct. To me nothing positive will come if you’re not persistent with trying to better your situation. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t know life any other way. I really don’t.
AA: It’s a value you grew up with or is it a survival value?
JG: You see people make the wrong decision in life – people that I’ve known were on drugs. "Sweet Pea" Whitaker was a big time boxer from my area. He was a boxer in the 90’s. He was a millionaire and lost it all. He got on drugs and not only does it tarnish your legacy, it affects your family. It affects so many different people.
AA: In a lot of ways the opportunities in sport give you a chance to lift your life to be in different environments – getting into college, having the opportunity to move onto the pros, and beyond into business once your playing days are over. It’s a great window of opportunity.
In 2004, during the ACC tournament you played with a lot of emotion and had a dominant performance. I read an article that said, "it was one of the most memorable in ACC history." Have you had a similar experience in your professional play?
JG: Yeah, I mean, that [ACC] was something great because it was on a national stage. In high school, we won championships, but the ACC was a highlight in college. Even overseas, I was on a successful team. We were the underdogs and being able to really show those teams... I’m coming to realize it’s easy to sneak up on a team that takes you for granted. I’ve been in that situation at different times. But when you are on top, people are gunning and have a target for you. Being able to manage your team. That was the thing. How can we go from a team with so much to being what we were? I take credit for a lot of it because I wasn’t the leader that I needed to be off the court as well. I realized that when I was in college I didn’t want to be that guy who says, “come on guys.” I wanted to be one of the guys. I didn’t speak up. I just let things linger. The team was like, “Gilchrist, it’s his fault.” I didn’t know how to fix it. I was really hurt by it. Now that I’ve had time away and can look at different people’s situations, it happens all the time. You watch a football team lose and hear, “he’s the worst quarterback.” When they win a game, it's “he’s the best QB.”
AA: John, I don’t think for most people the leader’s role is something people just step into. It’s not a natural quality for many people. People that become successful at leadership usually are mentored into it. They are groomed and learn the skills by someone mentoring them. It sounds as though you didn’t receive these skills sets until you went to Israel.
JG: My whole life I’ve been put in situations by being handpicked. We’d go to these different places and I’d ask, “Am I going to be able to play?” The coach would say, “We’re going to hand the team over to you. You’re going to come in and play a lot.” You kinda learn because you’re baptized by fire in those situations. You make a lot of mistakes because you don’t know.
AA: Because no one gives you a floor plan.
JG: Right. Those are the things that I’ve learned that I’m willing to continue to learn. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I know that I have a positive attitude. I know my qualities. My qualities are that I am a hard worker. I am a competitor. I refuse to lose.
AA: Those are huge qualities for athletes.
JG: So when anyone ever challenges me enough, I’m going to try my best to get over that hurdle. That’s the reason I feel like all I need is the opportunity. Any job you give me the opportunity, I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to try my best. If I’m not good enough to do it so be it. No one is going to say "if you give Gilchrist a chance, he won’t value it."
AA: Will playing in the NBDL again give you that window of opportunity to become visible under the NBA's radar?
JG: That’s exactly what it is. That’s the reason I want to play there if I can get into a situation where I’m able to play. But if I go into a situation where the NBDL team already has a player that plays my position, then he needs to play a certain amount of time and I am forced to be on the bench. It’s all about being in the right situation. It’s like you said, it’s about being on the NBA radar. They are the ones that play. The ones the scouts want to see. Teams want to get a report and watch them play.
AA: Are you getting closer?
JG: Definitely. I’m getting feedback from teams. That’s why I was up in the air about my decision whether to play in the NBDL or to remain in Israel. I could pass up the opportunity to go Europe and make a little money or I can chase my dream. I’m the type of person that will take that risk.
That’s what I am in it for. Like I said, I went overseas the first couple of years and the guys told me, "you can always come back here. You’ve already proved that you can play here."
AA: The door’s open.
JG: Yeah, you learn you can return to Europe and play. In the meantime, I’m going to try my best because in that situation guys can improve enough. You’re not playing in the NBA, but it's like a junior NBA. You might not be playing, but you’re learning all these things [in the NBDL]. You’re growing because you’re being taught all these things.
AA: What are some tips that you can share with upcoming basketball players that are valuable in managing your emotions when tensions heat up both on and off the floor?
JG: The difference between me now and when I was younger is I feel like I had tunnel vision towards how I saw myself and how I saw my situation being. I didn’t really see myself as being a pawn in the whole big business. That’s pretty much what basketball is – it’s a business. You have to stay marketable, be approachable. You can’t do stuff that will hinder your chances of success. You have to always give yourself a chance to win in sports period. You don’t want to beat yourself.
AA: I like the expression “you don’t want to beat yourself.” It puts it in a nutshell. The phrase touches not only the competitive side, but the bigger picture.
JG: It’s funny because when you’re going through it, you think that it’s falling on you, but everyone goes through it. At some point or another, everyone hits a roadblock in any career path.
I watched when the media made a big deal of LeBron James after they lost during the playoffs this year. The media criticized him for walking off the court after the game without shaking the other team's hand. It was a heartbreaking loss. I feel like our society can be ruthless with athletes, as they hold them to a whole other standard. Who wouldn’t do that? You can’t even think straight. All LeBron wants to do is have some time to himself.
AA: That’s tricky though because the media wants to write a newspaper article. They want a name to draw people to the article. When a player doesn’t show up to a press conference after the game, they take him to task and frame it in a negative light.
JG: Make him look bad.
AA: I hear what you’re saying. LeBron just needed time to himself to collect his thoughts and be upset for a while.
JG: That’s what got me into trouble. [A] couple of times, I went into the locker room after losing a game and I was pissed off. The reporters are shoving recorders in your face and you’re like "hey! What do you think happened here tonight?” If I say the first thing that comes to my mind; for example, “if we rebounded better” or something like that, the reporter then says, “So you’re saying it’s the big man’s fault.” Like I am not saying that necessarily, but they twist your words. That’s basically how the rift between myself and Gary Williams happened. The reporter would ask a question and I’d answer something like, “If they’d let me run my play....” Because I was young, I didn’t even realize how I was setting myself up.
AA: Do you think it is the responsibility of the school to help players by training and coaching them in these situations so that they are better equipped to handle the media?
JG: You can’t point a finger at anyone. That’s the type of guy I am. That’s the reason a lot of times I’ve taken the fall for others because I’ve been taught a lot of times that things happen with me personally that have been my downfall. Someone asks “what happened John?” I don’t point a finger at anyone because it always comes back. If they know me, they can’t say that about my character. I take it on the chin and let it be what it is. I’m not going to sit and talk bad about my teammate. At Maryland, I know they tried to talk to us. They give you like a little university course. They have these things available to you, but most college students... all they’re thinking about is playing. I was a kid. All I was thinking about was playing basketball.
AA: At that age you don’t really want coaching about what you should and shouldn’t be doing; you just want to play.
AA: What type of support team do you currently have in place to keep your goals on track to make it to the NBA?
JG: I just signed with Austin Walton of Walton Sports Management Group.
AA: So Walton Sports has a team of people who look out for your best interests regarding, contracts, endorsements, P.R., etc?
JG: When you go to them, they ask you what your needs are and point you in the right direction.
AA: They sit down with you and map out a path?
JG: Exactly. It’s wonderful.
AA: What do you do to relax off the court that gives you the mental and physical pause you learned while you were abroad so you can re-energize? I read somewhere that you enjoy fishing, boats, jet skis, and water sports.
JG: Stuff like that is very relaxing. I like water sports, boats and things. I feel that anytime you can get to the point where you can cut your phone off, people can’t bother you.
AA: How often do you get to do this?
JG: Now that I'm in the off-season, I get to go at least once a week. I need time to sit back and get myself together. I’ve been introduced to yoga. I do a lot of reading, things that clear your mind. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been able to go to church. That’s something that’s hard to find when you’re on the road.
AA: Occasionally, do you speak to youth groups?
JG: I’m approached all the time about talking to kids. Someone calls me and says they have a basketball camp going on and would I come over and talk to the kids. Anyone who’s ever known me, knows I’ve never had a problem with doing that stuff.
AA: It sounds as though it’s rewarding for you to give back to others.
JG: Definitely. Really I feel like that’s the reason why we’re put in this situation. It feels like God has put everybody in a situation for a certain reason. There’s a reason why these kids are looking up to me thinking you’re something special. The only way I understand it is if I think about when I was their age – how I felt when I met Alan Iverson and other local stars. I have to go back and remember that feeling. These young boys... you’re talking to them and they’re like, “Man I used to come to your games. I used to watch you on TV. I love the way you play.”
All I can say is, “Thank you man.” Then they get quiet and they want you to say something to them. All you can say is, “Stay on track man. Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t play if you can’t get your grades. You can’t play if you get in trouble.”
A lot of times we make our situation harder on ourselves. We can say we weren’t guided right. A lot of people just don’t see it coming. I talk to them and I say I did this and this was good, but I would do something different in that situation. I’ve been able to talk to a lot of up and coming guys that are going off to college – or are in college and trying to go and play basketball overseas. They call me. They want to get an agent. I’m just thankful that I’m in a position that I can share information.
AA: It’s motivating for you that these kids come to you and look up to you. It’s nice to be in a position where people have enough respect for you that they what to know what John G. thinks.
JG: It’s flattering, but for a while, I really fought it because I didn’t want it. When I was younger, I didn’t have all the answers, and I still don’t have all the answers. That’s when I was 21-22 years old. Pretty much each year I’ve gotten more settled in myself, but it was like people come to you and expect your word to be the gospel, but you don’t even know – that used to bother me. Honestly, now it’s to the point where if I don’t know, I’m going to do my research or I’ll tell them. I’m not embarrassed to say, "I haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but from what I’ve learned I can tell you this."
AA: It is really valuable for the younger players to hear from a player with experience. I read somewhere that your grandmother was a role model for you. Is she still alive?
JG: No, that was part of the reason I didn’t go back to Israel. I had the opportunity to go overseas last year, but she had triple bypass surgery and she was in critical condition. They wanted me to leave August 20th, but I was really close to her. She took care of me when my parents were working. I was always at her house. I spent the summers with her.
AA: Did she make it through the surgery?
AA: I’m sorry.
JG: That in itself has been empowering. It made me feel like, "man I need to do this for her." It gave me more of – there’s so much that I do better through her.
JG: Something like that really affects you in ways that you can’t even put into words. I know that it has made a difference in me personally because [it affects] a lot of stuff that I do now – in the way that I carry myself. When you’re younger, you see your grandmother and she says, "cut your hair or put on your shirt," and you’re like, “whatever grandmother.” It gets to the point where I can hear her voice or hear what she would say. I still have my parents, but she was like, the third parent. We had a different kind of bond. It really affected me. It’s the type of situation now that I experienced it. I still go and visit her gravesite every few weeks. It’s that type of thing. It prepares you for life. It happens... you feel the pain, the hurt, and it makes you stronger and moves you forward.
AA: You have all these stored memories of her being with you.
JG: She definitely changed my life with the time we spent together.
AA: Do you have any favorite quotes or sayings that help you to remain motivated? I know that my favorite from you so far is “don’t beat yourself.”
JG: A prayer I say is one my aunt always said when I was younger:
“I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. It’s one I’ve always called on.
AA: Are you religious?
JG: I go to church when I am home. It’s harder when I am on the road.
AA: Have you set a timeline for yourself to make it to the NBA or is it a play it out and see what happens type of thing?
JG: Just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said before, if it gets to the point where I’m 27-28 and it hasn’t worked and your body and athleticism slows down, you have to look at other options.
AA: Well it sounds as though you have good things going for you. I appreciate the conversation we’ve had. It seems like you’ve become a wiser person and that you’ve learned so much in the last several years. No matter what happens you’re a wiser, stronger person, which in itself, is a great value.
Thank you for your time. I hope you meet your dreams and your career goes forward in the ways you wish. Keep me up to date!
Update on John Gilchrist
John Gilchrist is currently playing for the Adelaide 36ers of the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia. The 36ers are one of the most winning teams in the history of the league. They have won over 10 championships in their history and are a very professional and well-run team; from the owner on down to the coaching staff. Last year, the team had Luke Schenscher, former Georgia Tech Center, and Julius Hodge, former NC State Guard. So they attract big names and former ACC stars with some NBA experience. It is a great team and city to play for, as they are the only team in the league with their own arena. They led the league in attendance as well.
He has been performing great for the 36ers and has really enjoyed the basketball and cultural environment. He is getting along well with all of his teammates and the coaching staff. He hopes to lead them to a championship this season. After the season is over, we plan to explore EuroCup teams for the last 2 months and then hopefully have John land an NBA summer league job.
This update was provided by Gilchrist's agent Austin Walton of Walton Sports Management Group (WSMG).
On behalf of Access Athletes, we would like to thank John Gilchrist for taking time out of his busy schedule to do an interview with The Real Athlete Blog.