If you ask Stan Heath, the difference in Gus Gilchrist from a year ago is like night and day. It could also end up being the difference between losing and winning for USF basketball. As the Bulls play their home opener tonight against Virginia, they continue to seek a strong scoring complement to star guard Dominique Jones. And Gilchrist, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.4 rebounds as a freshman, appears poised to become such a player. "It really is night and day, every aspect of the game," said Gilchrist, a 6-foot-10, 243-pound sophomore from Clinton, Md., who can play power forward and center.
USF opened its season Friday with a 67-61 win at Southern Methodist, and Gilchrist shined, with a career-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting along with nine rebounds, two shy of his best total last season.
It was the kind of dominant game Gilchrist was touted as being capable of when he was rated by Scout.com as the nation's No. 9 center coming out of high school in 2007. He signed with Virginia Tech but was granted a release after the campus shootings there in April 2007. He enrolled at Maryland but left after learning that an ACC transfer rule would cost him a year of eligibility.
He joined the Bulls last season in December and started 12 games, finishing as the team's No. 3 scorer as he tried to meet the high expectations that followed him to USF.
"He hadn't played organized basketball in two years. You don't just walk onto the Big East stage," Heath said. "I'd say 10 points and four rebounds is pretty good for a freshman."
Physically, Gilchrist looked like he hadn't played in two years, his minutes limited by fatigue that hurt him on both ends of the court. His relative sluggishness was initially thought to be simple rust, but USF's trainers later diagnosed him as being anemic and have been able to correct that with iron supplements.
That's not the only iron that has helped Gilchrist, who was busy in the weight room in the offseason. He said he came to USF able to bench-press about 135 pounds, and now he's up to "around 300," with the confidence that comes with that strength.
"I play defense better, because I have my legs under me," Gilchrist said. "I also can play down low a little more, be physical, get rebounds, and that's going to help the team. Last year, our leading rebounder was Dominique Jones. He's a great rebounder, but he's also a guard."
Thanks to Gilchrist and 6-11 junior college transfer Jarrid Famous, Jones is going to have trouble leading the Bulls on the boards again. One area Heath will be watching is Gilchrist's attitude, hoping to see more energy in the way he carries himself on the court, whether he's playing well or not.
"He still has growth there," Heath said. "I think his body language — he doesn't see it, but we see that. It's something he has to work on. … I'd like to see him smile a little more. I'd like to see him interact with people a little more. That's just a process he's got to go through. He's an only child, has been an introvert most of his life, but I'd like to see him grow out of that."
As Heath eyes a big step forward for his team after going 4-14 in the Big East last season, he sees the same high potential in Gilchrist.
"I think this is the year for him to be a little more consistent, to have a better feel for how to play at this level," Heath said. "I think we're seeing that in workouts and practice. I still don't think he's scratched the surface of where he can be, but I think he will get there."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.