Bill Hass on the ACC: More Sides to Maryland's Greivis Vasquez Than Meet the Eye
Oct. 30, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Many adjectives leap to mind when people think about Greivis Vasquez of Maryland.
Talented. Passionate. Emotional. Flamboyant.
Plus a lot of other unkind words that people like to bestow upon him when he’s playing a road game.
What’s not so obvious are some attributes that might be unexpected until you get to know him.
Sociable. Compassionate. Dedicated. Humble.
OK, that last one might be a bit much for some folks to take. But there are occasions when humility does rear its head in his life.
Vasquez went through the process of determining whether or not he should enter the NBA draft. To the surprise of many, he chose to return to Maryland for his senior season.
“I came back to school because I didn’t think I was really ready to be in the NBA,” Vasquez said during the ACC’s recent Operation Basketball. “It’s not like I thought I was the best player in the ACC. I’m a humble guy and I just want to get better every day.”
And should he ever take himself too seriously, all Vasquez needs to do is think about his origins and when he came to America from Caracas, Venezuela.
“I came over here five years ago with nothing,” he said. “Nothing. Nothing. Couldn’t even speak English five years ago. Now I have a chance to be one of the best players in the ACC and then a chance to be in the NBA.
“Even more important, I’m going to get my degree on time. People need to know that. It’s not about me being cocky or I’m thinking I’m the best player in the ACC. No. It’s about me being dedicated, it’s about me having a chance to go back to my country and (say to people) in my community, ‘if I did it, you can do it, too.’”
Vasquez played for the Venezuelan national team this summer. Basketball is a distant third in popularity there, behind soccer and baseball, but is gaining more attention. He said he sees Maryland T-shirts when he goes home and the national media follows his career closely.
Around campus, he said, he shows support by going to all of Maryland’s home football games plus games in many other sports, from soccer to lacrosse. It’s often hard for him to watch the action because so many people want to talk to him.
“I have all these people (around me) and I’m cool (with that), I like that,” he said. “I like supporting our teams and I like talking to people.”
With his outgoing personality and flair on the court, Vasquez understands that people may have an unfavorable opinion about him. He is used to hearing things from the stands, but said that motivates him to play harder.
“I’m not going to change the way I play,” he said. “I can approach different situations in a game differently, but I’m not going to change because people are saying that about me.
“I just love playing the game. I’m really passionate about it. It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad guy or I think I’m the best in the whole world.”
There’s no denying that when Vasquez is on his game, he makes Maryland extremely tough. Last season he averaged 34.6 minutes, 17.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Not a great percentage shooter (42.3 for his career), he finds ways to score, from drives to 3-pointers to getting to the foul line.
A wide-open player prone to numerous turnovers in his first two seasons, Vasquez learned to value the ball last season and reduced his turnovers by 51.
“He’s gotten mature over the years,” said teammate and fellow senior Landon Milbourne. “He plays an intelligent game with less turnovers, more assists, better shot selection. Along with that he’s a veteran player with a lot of games and a lot of minutes. I expect him to carry us like he did last year.
“Everybody needs to stay in tune with him being the point guard on this team and the direction he’s going to take us. He has his goals and everybody on the team has their own goals but we’re all working toward one goal and that’s to win an ACC Championship and take us to the Final Four. I think he’ll be the person to bring that to us.”
Vasquez agreed that his game has matured through three seasons. And while his decisions might be different, people shouldn’t expect to see any change in his approach.
“I’m going to make sure that my teammates have fun and I have fun,” he said. “And fun means winning games – going to Duke and beating Duke, going to Virginia Tech and beating Virginia Tech. It’s not easy, but that’s fun.”
He plans to have a lot of it in his last college season.
Back to nasty defense for Hokies
Asked how Virginia Tech would fare in the ACC this season, junior point guard Malcolm Delaney gave a blunt answer.
“We’re championship contenders, I know that for a fact,” he said. “The attitude of our team in preseason has been great. We’re better at this point than we have been the last two years.”
The main reason, Delaney said, is a return to playing nasty defense.
“We went back to the hard-nosed team we used to be,” he said. “Last year we tried to out-score people; we had the weapons on offense to score but we didn’t play the defense that we’re used to. (Coach Seth Greenberg) threw in a couple things this year to bring that attitude back and we responded well.”
What was the difference in last season’s defense and previous years?
“We knew we could score with everybody but we didn’t try to stop people,” Delaney explained. “We’re going to shut a lot of people down this year and I’m looking forward to that. We’ve gone back to pressuring (the ball) a lot more. Last year we let people get in their offense and it’s easy to score when you let a team get in their offense.
“People have been getting hurt just because of how hard we’ve been going in practice. We haven’t had a practice where somebody hasn’t gotten hurt. It’s like a football practice but it’s helping us out a lot.”
Keeping Hurricanes happy
Miami will have a new point guard in Malcolm Grant, a sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Villanova. He inherits the spot left by first-team All-ACC player Jack McClinton. Grant said this team will be more balanced.
“One game Dwayne (Collins) might break out, another game James (Dews) might break out, or the freshmen might break out,” Grant said.
And that’s where he comes in.
“I fit in because I’m getting guys shots, I’m getting Dwayne more touches, and I just want to make everybody happy,” Grant said. “I want to make sure that these guys are playing their game and feeling comfortable out there, just having fun.”
Senior guard James Dews vouched for Grant’s effectiveness in keeping his teammates happy.
“I feel like my game is coming to me a lot easier now when you have a point guard who can find you when you get open,” Dews said. “Malcolm is a good point guard; he can come out and get 10 or 11 assists a game if he really wants to and also 15 points a game.”
Scheyer aiming for no regrets
Senior guard Jon Scheyer always dreamed of Final Fours and national championships but hasn’t realized those goals so far in his career at Duke.
“We’ve had great years, but at the same time there’s more we want to do than we’ve done the last two years,” he said. “So that’s why this year I want to have no regrets at the end of the year. And if we do everything we can we’ll be happy with the end result.
“The one thing we need to do is really learn how to play together. The reason I say that is we don’t really have one guy, necessarily, like Gerald (Henderson) who can create all the time.
“With that said, I do think it’s the best team I’ve played on because of our size, our experience and the young guys, if they keep coming on. We need to make some steps and because we’re playing a different way, we need to master that to become a national championship type team.”
The Blue Devils have more big men than Scheyer has seen at one time.
“Our inside play is something we really haven’t had before,” he said. “That’s something we need to take advantage of, we need to go inside. Not only are we big inside, we have a big perimeter. It’s really a switch for us in terms of being undersized throughout my whole career to being a bigger team, and we’ll take advantage of that.”
North Carolina’s Marcus Ginyard was forced to watch from the sidelines as he sat out the 2008-09 season with a foot injury. How much did he learn by observing? “I wouldn’t say a great deal, but there’s no question that you’ve got a different view sitting over there on the side, knowing that you’re not getting a chance to get in there. Being able to watch the entire year you really do see a lot of different things than you would as a player, things you wouldn’t normally be paying attention to. There’s no question that it did help me. The biggest thing is how excited I am to use some of those things and get back out on the court. I really feel better than I ever have.”
Clemson senior post player Trevor Booker is joined by his younger brother, Devin, on this year’s roster. “It’s exciting, trying to get him adjusted. We played with each other in high school, so it’s not the first time. He’s very aggressive, probably more aggressive than me. I can play on the perimeter a little bit more than he can, but that’s coming around for him also. (He’ll contribute) mostly rebounding. He’s just another player that I go at on the court; I go at him just like I go at everybody else on the team. I won’t say I taught him the game, but I’m sure he watched me. We played against each other in the backyard. That probably helped him out.”
Wake Forest’s David Weaver on being a fifth-year senior: “Coach (Dino) Gaudio makes a joke about it, ‘you’re the older, wise guy.’ A lot of the young guys come up to me, ‘hey, how’s the crowd in Cameron, how’s the crowd in the Smith Center? When someone comes off this kind of ball screen, what should I do?’ They look to me, not necessarily as the guy with all the answers, but I’m going to help those guys out a little bit. I’m 22. A lot of people think I’m old because I’ve been here five years, but I entered school when I was young, I was 17. I’m young but I’m old at the same time.”
Florida State’s 6-9 sophomore Chris Singleton on playing without the graduated Toney Douglas: “I know we had Toney last year so we all had to lay back and let him get his, but now we’re a more complete team. I think the sky is the limit (for me). I keep working, keep at it, staying hungry, and I can be as good as anybody. I’m looking to improve my post game to make sure my presence is known on the court. Last year I think I just got lost sometimes. Everybody on our team can shoot, everybody on our team can score. I think it’s going to be tough for teams to stop one person. We call can contribute a lot.”
Georgia Tech has a heralded freshman post player in Derrick Favors, but senior Gani Lawal said don’t forget freshman point guard Mfon Udoria. “Mfon is a hard-nosed guy. He’s going to play defense every play, he’s a good point guard, has good vision, he really gets his eyes up the floor, he’s really striving to make that good pass and he can run an offense. But he’s a freshman and he still has things he’s got to learn.”
Virginia sophomore Sylven Landesberg said his role will expand under new coach Tony Bennett. “I have a lot more freedom this year. They’re letting me be more of a playmaker; I’m not always looking for my shot now, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident in finding a teammate knowing they’re going to knock the shot down than I did last year. When I get the ball I’ve stretched my game out this year. This whole summer I worked on my jump shot. I feel a lot more comfortable shooting my jump shot, getting to the basket, I can drive and kick and find an open teammate.”
With NC State’s top three scorers from last year gone, senior forward Dennis Horner believes he’ll have more chances to show what he can do. “The last couple years I might not have had all the confidence that I wanted to play and in basketball that’s the main thing you need. This year I’m confident in my game and that I’ll be able to go out and play well every night. I’m a (power forward) but I can get out on the wings, stretch the defense out and set up stuff for Tracy (Smith) inside. He’s a great low-post scorer.”
Boston College beat both North Carolina and Duke last season but was bumped out of the NCAA tournament in the first round. Junior forward Joe Trapani said the Eagles are optimistic this season. “We played a lot of good games, had some good wins, but I think we left some stuff on the table that we could accomplish this year. Our team chemistry has been good off the court and on the court and as long as we’ve got that going where we’re looking out for each other, making the extra pass, staying composed in tough situations, it’s definitely going to show.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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