One-of-a-kind Vasquez makes his mark at Maryland
Greivis Vasquez on the basketball court is like a Picasso in a museum: intriguing to the eye, far from ordinary, yet often unappreciated by those with conservative tastes.
Maryland's mercurial senior point guard is the only player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to have at least 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds in his career. A year ago, Vasquez become the first Terrapin to lead the team in all three categories during one season.
Dubbed the ``Venezuelan Sensation,'' Vasquez currently averages 19 points per game and is the main reason why Maryland (19-7, 9-3) remains in contention for the league title.
But some Terps fans find his brashness to be annoying. They shudder when Vasquez shimmies his body after a big basket, and grimace when he throws the ball away while trying to make a daring pass.
He does, after all, have 86 turnovers this season - nearly twice as many as any of his teammates.
``Greivis has his critics,'' Maryland coach Gary Williams said. ``But when you look at the numbers, they're there. When you look at what he's meant for the team this year, he's done everything he could. For anybody to think he doesn't belong with the top five or seven players who ever played here, they don't know the game very well. Just look at what he's done.''
Vasquez ranks sixth on the Maryland career scoring chart with 2,013 points and will move into third place - behind only Juan Dixon, Len Bias and Albert King - if he scores 5 Wednesday night against Clemson. Steve Blake is the only Terp with more career assists than Vasquez, who clearly made the right decision when he spurned a shot at the NBA to return for his senior season.
``My numbers, it's just a blessing. I'm thankful,'' Vasquez said. ``Maryland gave me a great opportunity. The fans have been incredible, supporting me. My family, the whole country of Venezuela, are thankful about me coming to Maryland.''
Vasquez was born in Caracas and moved to the United States to attend high school at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md. Upon his arrival, he could barely speak English and his basketball skills were raw. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder has since grasped the language and lifted his game to a level that has put him in position for ACC Player of the Year honors.
When facing the Terrapins, the first objective of any opposing coach is to stop Vasquez. Georgia Tech often had two players on him Saturday, and still the Terrapins won.
``He's just a great player. We keyed on him to make sure he couldn't get going offensively. We double-teamed him, and he still found a way to help his team: He took seven free throws and had eight assists,'' Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said.
Hewitt scoffed at the suggestion that Vasquez is too emotional, or that he lacks the necessary discipline to lead his team to greatness.
``It's not wild,'' Hewitt said. ``You know the guy's going to come out and give you everything every time. He may make some mistakes, but as long as they're aggressive mistakes, you're fine with it.''
Vasquez was blanketed during the final 1.5 seconds when Maryland needed a basket to beat the Yellow Jackets. That left open Cliff Tucker, who hit the game-winning shot.
But usually it's Vasquez who comes up big when the Terrapins need him most. He registered a triple-double last year in an overtime victory over North Carolina, the eventual national champion, and is the reigning ACC Player of the Week after scoring 30, 26 and 18 in wins over Virginia, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.
``He's a big-game player. He always seems to be ready to play against those types of teams and he always seems to play real well,'' said Eric Hayes, Vasquez's backcourt mate. ``It's not just scoring. It's his all-around game - rebounding, getting assists.''
And that doesn't even begin to address Vasquez's play on the other end of the court.
``I'm really proud of what he's done, because a lot of games he becomes our best defensive guard,'' Williams said. ``He's big enough to play whoever we have to put him on. He's been a great all-around player.''
When Vasquez decided to return for a final season at Maryland, it wasn't all about honing his talent. Vasquez figured the best way to make a good impression was to help the Terrapins go far in the NCAA tournament.
``I think I got much better. Definitely, my shot is better. My conditioning is better,'' he said. ``But it's not about me. It's about winning basketball games. Scoring 30 points, that's not what's going to get me to the NBA. What's going to get me into the NBA is leading us to the Sweet 16 or winning the ACC tournament or regular season.''
Said Williams: ``I think that's part of being a senior. Greivis understands that if we play well and he plays well, that makes you look better than if we lose and he gets 35 or something like that. That's a big bonus for our team.''
And if he gets a little crazy on the court, so be it.
``I'm not afraid to make a mistake,'' Vasquez said. ``Obviously, I got the green light from the coach. He trusts me, and I trust him.''