Turtle On Fire
Fiery demeanor and all, Greivis Vasquez is ready to lead Maryland again.
Greivis Vasquez may be the most hated man in the ACC this season. He’s OK with that.
“I think its fun,” Maryland’s senior guard says. “Going on the road and knowing that people are going to hate on you and talk trash to, you that motivates me. When people doubt my talent and think I’m going to fail, that makes me work harder, I like to prove people wrong.”
Vasquez hasn’t necessarily had to prove anyone wrong yet, but the 6-6 Venezuelan native has definitely done his best to infuriate opposing fan bases during his three years in College Park. Last year as a junior, he earned second team All-ACC honors for the second consecutive year and became the first player in program history to lead the team in scoring (17.5), rebounds (5.4), assists (5.0), steals (1.4) and minutes (34.6) in the same season. He was only the sixth player in conference history to accomplish the feat.
As good of a player as Vasquez has been during his time in a Terrapin uniform, his career has ultimately been defined on a national level by two key events from last season.
The first came in February when he posted a career-high 35 points and added 11 rebounds and 10 assists to record the first triple-double by a Maryland player in 22 years, while leading his team to an upset win over eventual national champion North Carolina.
The second came several weeks later. Just one day before the Terps were set to take on Memphis in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Vasquez made the now infamous remarks that the Tigers would have a losing conference record if the played in the ACC. He further added that John Calipari’s squad needed some “competition.” Memphis of course roared past Maryland to an 89-70 victory.
That’s just Vasquez though, a dynamic talent with an equally dynamic personality, who has never been afraid to show his emotion or speak his mind. While his raw displays of intensity have earned him criticism from those outside the program at times, Maryland head coach Gary Williams couldn’t be happier with the energy his star brings to the table.
“I think every year he has gotten better in that area, obviously he’s become a good player, so he gets more attention, that’s definitely part of it,” Williams says. “The other thing is that he just plays with a passion, I think sometimes for people it’s almost like its wrong to have a passion for something you do. Just because Greivis is demonstrative they take that in the wrong way at times, but I’d much rather coach a player you have to calm down once in a while as opposed to pump him up.
“It’s a lot easier to calm a player down.”
Not that Williams or any member of the coaching staff wants to tamper with what has already proved to be a huge asset to the team. After testing the NBA draft waters by submitting his name and working out for more than a dozen pro teams this summer, Vasquez has returned to campus with a wealth of expectations being placed on his shoulders.
After being picked seventh in the ACC preseason poll last season, Maryland was voted fifth by the media this past weekend at the conference’s media day largely on the strength of Vasquez’s return. Adding even more fuel to the preseason hype surrounding the energetic guard were the 45 votes he received for placement on the preseason All-ACC team, more than any other player in the conference. Despite that, he finished second to Duke’s Kyle Singler for the Preseason Player of the Year.
If Vasquez seems oblivious to the whirlwind surrounding him right now as he prepares for his final college season it isn’t because he isn’t aware of it – simply put, he’s been expecting this since the moment he signed his letter of intent to play at Maryland.
“When I came here four years ago I was expecting the opportunity to be one of the best players in the country,” Vasquez says. “There is pressure because of what people are expecting out of me and I’m willing to take the challenge. I think when you want to become a great player you have to take those challenges head on because that makes you tougher and stronger. I want to play at the highest level, I want to be in the NBA, and so I have to take those challenges and pressure on. I want to really make this year special.”
The Terps certainly have the right personnel this year to help fulfill their senior leader’s desire. Seven out of the team’s top eight scorers are back from a season ago and the addition of freshman forwards Jordan Williams and James Padgett will bring much needed size and depth to a frontcourt that sorely lacked in those departments last year.
Perhaps the biggest key to the teams and Vasquez’s success will be the emergence of a consistent secondary scoring option. Seniors Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes each had double figure scoring averages last year, but had cold stretches during conference play which forced more of an offensive burden on Vasquez. Given how the team came on down the stretch of the regular season last year and how the players have looked during the early practice schedule, Williams is convinced that his leader will be able to defer more often to his teammates to provide the lift to win games this season. A result, he says, that will be looked at favorably by pro scouts.
“I think Greivis is going to make the other players better if teams do concentrate on him to the extent that they leave other people open,” Williams says. “I think we’re good enough at the other positions that we can make teams pay. That’s how we’ll have to play; we’ll have to see what they do and if that includes extra attention on him or not.”
“When you go into the draft and come back for your senior year, the pros know what you can do, whether you score 20 points or not, that doesn’t matter. What matters is how you play and if you can help your team win. You look at the draft every year now; most players are coming off of really good teams – like Carolina last year for example. That’s what the pros want to see are players who can win games for them.”
Certainly an NCAA Tournament berth for Maryland in Vasquez’s first season of being the offenses focal point is a good start. Now the challenge will be coming up with an encore performance.
Vasquez had a hectic summer between working out with other pro prospects during the draft process and playing back home in his native country for a stretch. All the while, the senior was focusing on getting quicker and stronger to help with his defense while working to improve the consistency of his jump shot. Above all of the improvements he has made to his arsenal though, the fiery competitor focuses on the intangibles and the growth he has shown as a leader.
“I’ve matured a lot since my first season in that I see the game at a different speed, to me that is something I can bring to the table so the young guys can learn from that,” he says.
Ultimately though, for a player who has been a lightning rod for attention in his time at the college level, achieving his greatest success may only come once he takes a step back from the bright lights.
“My job this year is going to be getting guys involved and being a good leader on the floor so I can build confidence in my team,” Vasquez says. “I know some people may think that for me to get to the NBA I’m going to have to score 28 points or whatever, but my mentality is just to win games regardless of what it takes. If I have to get 10 rebounds and 10 assists and score four points, I’ll do it, that just means someone else has to do the scoring, I don’t care.
“I want this year to be special and I think we have the right tools to make something great happen.”
Now what is there to hate about that?