Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — After winning the gold medal in theFIBA U17 World Championship in Hamburg, Germany Sunday night, Michael Gilchrist and five teammates flew from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, N.C. to Columbia, S.C., where they landed at 10:40 Monday night.
They wore their gold medals around their necks all the way home.
But not long after arriving in South Carolina, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Gilchrist presented his mother, Cindy Richardson, with his medal.
“I’m so proud of him, my heart’s about to burst,” said Richardson, a Somerdale, N.J. native. “I’m going to wear this gold medal for every single, solitary game until he goes to college.”
Gilchrist, 16, didn’t fall asleep in his Augusta, Ga., hotel room until somewhere around 5 a.m. Tuesday. Two and a half hours later, he was awaken by his AAU coach, Rob Brown of Team Final, for a 9 a.m. game at the Nike Peach Jam.
“I didn’t want to get up but Rob Brown made me,” joked Gilchrist, the Kentucky-bound wing out of Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick who is ranked the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2011.
Brown said the original plan was for Gilchrist to just watch Team Final’s game with Mean Streets out of Chicago, but of course Gilchrist played anyway.
He scored 26 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 60-54 victory, prompting Tom Konchalski, a 40-year veteran of the college recruiting game, to observe: “The sandman obviously has no hold on Michael Gilchrist.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari traveled to Germany to watch the U17s play and he returned Monday night in order to watch Gilchrist in his Peach Jam debut.
“I wanted to win,” Gilchrist said of the Peach Jam game. “I didn’t want to lose at all.”
Gilchrist said he was exhausted from the trip but winning the gold medal with his teammates made it all worthwhile.
“That gold medal means a lot to me,” said Gilchrist, who scored 16 points in the USA’s 111-80 victory over Poland in the championship. “I started crying once I got it.”
GOOD NEWS FOR USA BASKETBALL
The fact that Gilchrist and his high-profile teammates chose to play for Team USA and skip the LeBron James Skills Academy earlier this month was significant.
The top seven players in the Rivals 150 for the Class of 2011 competed this summer for USA Basketball, either with the U17 or U18 teams, both of which won gold medals in their respective events.
Gilchrist, Indianapolis Pike guard Marquis Teague and St. Louis Chaminade guard Bradley Beal all played for the U17s.
“We wanted to go to LeBron but we already said we were going to Team USA because that was the most important thing to do,” said Teague, who managed just 3 points on 1 of 7 shooting in his first game Tuesday against the New Jersey Playaz.
In choosing USA Basketball over high-profile AAU events such as the LeBron Academy, the players set a precedent that could have an impact on future generations of ballers.
“I would think so,” U17 head coach Don Showalter said in a phone interview from Germany. “A lot of these kids except for Gilchrist, Teague and Tony Wroten really spent two summers with USA Basketball. In order for them to do that they had to miss some things. I think it’s going to make them better players in the long run being involved with USA Basketball.”
Even though they skipped the LeBron Academy, Gilchrist and Teague both said they were inspired to play for Team USA in part by watching current Miami Heat teammates James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh win the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Of course,” Gilchrist said. “I love LeBron James.”
TOP PLAYERS AGREED TO PLAY TOGETHER
Still, Gilchrist said he initially needed some convincing to join the team.
It wasn’t until James McAdoo, the North Carolina commit who scored a team-high 20 points in the gold medal game, called him last year to get him to play that Gilchrist thought about it. Gilchrist said yes “right away.”
After that, Gilchrist made some calls of his own to get the ball rolling.
“I called Tony Wroten and Teague,” Gilchrist said, referring to his two closest friends on the AAU circuit.
Gilchrist arrived in San Antonio late for training, but he and his teammates worked hard toward their goal.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Gilchrist said. “All those two-a-days we put in, it was just crazy for me.”
Showalter said that paid off in Germany.
“They ended up winning fairly easily but a lot of that had to do with the team play that our kids brought with them,” he said.
‘MOMMA’S BOY’ TRAVELS OVERSEAS FOR FIRST TIME
Richardson and her husband, Vince, are normally very protective of Gilchrist, limiting his exposure to the media and attending events with him.
But in this case, they opted to let him travel to San Antonio June 21 for training with his teammates and then on his first-ever overseas trip without any family members accompanying him. Richardson stayed in touch with her son via email because phone charges ran $1.29 per minute from Germany.
“Me and dad sat down and we decided that this would be Michael’s last opportunity to travel with a team,” Richardson said. “And because of the distance, the experience, we thought it was important for Michael to know what those homesickness emotions were and to know what it’s like to just rely on your teammates and your coaching staff.”
Gilchrist called home from Lithuania (where the team played exhibitions) to complain that the food was “nasty” and said he cried often in Germany.
“I was crying every night, man,” Gilchrist said. “It wasn’t bad, but…I’m a momma’s boy.”
Still, when the gold medal game took place, Gilchrist and his mother were united by technology.
Richardson and her family members were in the Philadelphia airport because their flight to the Peach Jam was cancelled because of weather. One family member plugged in a laptop and they watched the game on the Internet.
Back in Germany, Gilchrist and his precedent-setting teammates put their hands in their air in celebration after winning the gold.
“It was a good feeling,” Gilchrist said. “It was a real good feeling for me.”
Gilchrist said he wouldn’t hesitate to play for the U19 team next summer at the World Championship in Latvia. And that is good news for USA Basketball.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.