For those who know a little bit about Virginia Tech's recruitment of basketball player Augustus "Gus" Gilchrist, the announcement late last week that Gilchrist wants to back out of his Letter of Intent to Tech isn't a big surprise. For the Hokies, recruiting Gilchrist, signing him, and getting him to campus has been an uphill battle all the way, and this latest turn of events is no exception.
Gilchrist, who goes by Augustus, Gus, Big Gus, or even Tony, wasn't a highly-rated prospect when he committed to VT in early March of 2006. He was playing for Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland at the time and was at the very end of his junior season. Gilchrist visited VT and liked the support the fans showed to a Tech team that was struggling at the time. He felt comfortable with local products Nigel Munson (who had signed with Tech) and Jeff Allen (who had committed to Tech), and Gilchrist committed to the Hokies.
Friendly High coach O. Brian Walker said at the time that Gilchrist had improved immensely from his sophomore season to his junior season, and Walker added, "Another off-season like the one he had this past year, and I think he can really become a force."
Gilchrist did indeed become a force. Basketball-wise, things have gone well for Gus (as I'll call him). Gilchrist bloomed into a four-star player and a Top 100 national player per the ACC Sports Journal (#97 and rising), Rivals.com (#101) and Scout.com (#54). At 6-9, 240 pounds, Gilchrist was classified as a power forward by some and the elusive true center by others.
From the time he committed in March of 2006, though, it was a battle for Tech to get him signed in the early signing period of November 2006. First Gilchrist transferred from Friendly to Progressive Christian -- against the wishes of the Tech staff, we're told -- and then he took on a personal trainer, Terrelle Woody. Woody and Progressive coach Van Whitfield became influential in Gilchrist's decision-making processes, and the water was further muddied by other colleges who "messed with Gus", in the words of one source last fall, trying to pull him away from VT.
Gilchrist is what I call a reed in the wind, bending in the direction of the prevailing breeze. We're told that Gus is easy to influence and is more of a follower than a leader, so the input from Woody, Whitfield, other colleges, and even Gilchrist's family had him second-guessing himself on his Tech commitment.
As Signing Day (November 8th) approached and passed, Tech's other four recruits submitted their LOIs, but not Gilchrist. It wasn't until five days later that Gilchrist finally submitted his LOI to Tech, ending a harrowing time for the Hokie coaching staff. The consensus of opinion, though, was that the LOI was just one step of what would be a difficult process of getting Gilchrist on campus and into the Tech basketball program.
To make that happen, the Hokie coaches would have to continue to recruit Gilchrist hard and fight off influences that were telling him not to go to Tech. The Tech coaches feared that there would continue to be issues until Gilchrist actually enrolled at Tech and arrived in Blacksburg.
That turned out to be prophetic, as news started breaking last week that Gilchrist might not come to Tech, despite having signed an LOI. A look at the recruiting blog of the Washington Post's Josh Barr reveals a confusing and sometimes even amusing -- if you're not a Virginia Tech fan -- turn of events. First Barr revealed on May 11th that Gilchrist might not come to Tech, and he quoted Gilchrist as saying: "Everything is pretty much up in the air. I don't have all the information on what I'm going to do."
Gilchrist said he was unsure when things might be settled. He said the recent campus shootings in Blacksburg played a role in his decision.
"The whole incident had a lot to do with it," he said. "But I'll talk to you at a later time."
Later that day, Progressive coach Van Whitfield issued a statement that he sent to various media outlets, in which Whitfield said:
Due to the tragic and historic events of April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech University, Progressive Christian Academy senior forward Augustus Gilchrist will respectfully request to be released from his National Letter of Intent.
In this time of mourning and recovery, Augustus and his family share their heartfelt condolences for the families and innocent victims of April 16.
Augustus is currently focusing on completing his course work and graduating. He and his family wish the Hokies, Coach Seth Greenberg and the V-Tech and Blacksburg communities strength, courage and resolve as they move beyond the events of April 16.
This statement was picked up and printed in The Roanoke Times, Barr's blog, and an AOL sports blog, among other places.
Barr immediately called Terrelle Woody, Gilchrist's personal trainer, and here's where the black comedy starts, and where the indicators are that various influences are pulling Gus in different directions. Within a half hour of posting Coach Whitfield's statement, Barr posted that Woody stated that Whitfield "wasn't authorized to speak for Gilchrist or release information on the player's behalf."
Left hand, meet right hand. What are you guys up to, exactly? And since when do "personal trainers" determine the careers of Top-100 basketball recruits, but their coaches must remain silent? Only in hoops recruiting would you see something like this.
Terrelle Woody told Josh Barr that Gilchrist would go to prep school next year, an odd choice for a young man who by all reports will qualify academically, and he may or may not open up his recruiting after a prep year.
Sunday, May 13th, Barr posted a full Washington Post article, not just a blog entry, that finally included quotes from Gilchrist himself. Gilchrist cited the April 16th shootings as his reason, and went on to say:
"I want to send my condolences to the families and the victims. It's a terrible situation that happened," Gilchrist said. "I'm not mentally prepared to go there for this [coming] year. I think the campus needs time to heal. The campus needs time to mourn the first year. I don't know if I'm prepared to do that next year.
"I'm not sure [of my plans] at this point because everything hasn't played out. My intention at first was to take a year and see how it plays out. But I don't think I want to go to Virginia Tech."
Gilchrist's options are to get Tech to release him from his LOI, which would enable him to play college basketball somewhere else next year, or to prep for a year and then go wherever he wants to. But Gilchrist showed the lack of clarity in his thinking when he said, "If they do let me out, then I'm not sure what college I would like to go to."
The latest piece of the puzzle? Barr posted a blog update just this morning that indicated Gilchrist had not directly asked for a release from his LOI.
And that's all we know at this point. Hmmm.
Gilchrist's indecision, reflected in his use of the word "think" in "I don't think I want to go to Virginia Tech" and in the fact that he hasn't formally asked for a release yet, indicate to me that he is impressionable, easily influenced, and is bouncing back and forth. Whitfield and Woody obviously aren't on the same page and are probably pulling Gilchrist in different directions. The cynic in me doubts that either one is thinking about what's best for Gus.
In short, it's a mess, one that probably could have been avoided if Gilchrist had simply stayed at Friendly High, instead of transferring to Progressive Christian, and if he hadn't hired a personal trainer in Woody who, at the very least, is speaking publicly for him, and who might be doing a whole lot more than that privately.
Throw in the typical recruiting wars that go on with colleges trying to snag big-time players, and you've got a real mud pit. Colleges aren't allowed to recruit signed players, of course, but everyone knows that in basketball recruiting, the colleges don't contact the players directly. They go through intermediaries, thus breaking the spirit of the rules, but not the letter of the law.
Should Gilchrist stand up for himself, make up his own mind, and tell everyone to get off his back? Sure he should, but it's not his nature. We don't know if Gus invoking the April 16th shootings is sincere or a convenient excuse. It's hard to say what Gus is thinking, and Gus himself may not even know.
This may not be over, and perhaps the Tech coaches can now have their say, get Gus back on track, and get him on the Tech campus. It sounds like Gilchrist could use some good influences in his life, and one can only hope that he comes to Tech and finds those positive influences in Blacksburg. Right now, though, things don't look good for Virginia Tech.