Vasquez Grows Into Triple-Double
With two minutes to go in regulation against the No. 3 team in the nation and trailing by seven on his team’s home court, Greivis Vasquez slung a one-handed pass in transition intended for Sean Mosley. The ball sailed into the Maryland bench, a foot or two behind its target.
In that instant, knowing full-well the opportunity he had just thrown away, Vasquez briefly bowed his head and sneered in disgust.
“I was really upset with myself, because I'm better than that,” Vasquez said. “But I recovered pretty well.”
With 17 seconds remaining, the ball was in Vasquez’s hands again, incidentally, in the same spot from which he had made his previous error – left side of the floor, just past midcourt. Maryland trailed by two and needed one more basket from the player on his way to recording just the third triple-double in program history. Vasquez looped toward the right side of the lane and scored a layup with eight ticks left on the clock.
He tallied eight more points, one more assist and, yes, another turnover in the overtime period. The miscue stuck with Vasquez afterward, but the 88-85 victory the Terrapins notched proved more than enough consolation.
“He throws one away every once in a while and that's all you hear about is the one he threw away, not about all the great plays he makes,” Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. “You know, I've been saying all along that he's a great player, and I know that gets debated, but he showed it tonight. He's a great player and he had a great night on a big stage against a very good basketball team.”
At Thursday’s practice, Vasquez approached assistant coach Robert Ehsan with a request. He understood his role for this season on this team was to serve as the shooting guard. But it didn’t feel right. The assignment was too confining, too tight a fit. And so he asked Ehsan if he could move to point guard, if only for the “big games,” such as Saturday’s against the Tar Heels.
After all, Vasquez thought, the Terrapins had knocked off Duke twice and North Carolina once during his freshman year with him running the point. They’d also taken down the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last season while Vasquez orchestrated the offense.
“Even though I'm the two-guard, I'm not really a scorer,” Vasquez said. “I'm a point guard. I'm a true point guard. And this is my team, so I'm supposed to lead the team. I'm supposed to have the ball in my hands. I didn't want things to change because Adrian (Bowie) is doing a good job for us, but I wanted to win this game so bad that I had to go and talk to one of the assistant coaches and tell them that the only way I'm going to produce and play my best is just being the point guard because that's my natural position.”
Adrian Bowie, who has been the team’s de facto point guard for much of the season, especially since Eric Hayes was moved to the bench, played just 17 minutes against North Carolina and only six after halftime. That left Hayes and Vasquez to run Maryland’s offense.
But despite Vasquez’s stated apathetic stance toward scoring, he sure did a lot of it in the opening minutes of Saturday’s game. He tallied Maryland’s first 16 points, nearly single-handedly prohibiting the Tar Heels from pulling away early. At halftime, the Terrapins’ trailed by nine despite shooting 32.4 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range. No Maryland player besides Vasquez tallied more than five points before the intermission.
“I've been watching a lot of NBA games,” Vasquez said. “I've been watching Lebron. I've been watching Kobe. When you watch a lot of those guys, and you know, I'm trying to be like those guys for my team in a good way, so it started out pretty good for me and I scored 16 points in the first seven minutes. It was good for me. I needed it.”
Vasquez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, speaks fluent English these days. He looks his question in the eye and often is contemplative with his response. His words sometimes appear off the cuff and overly-emotional in print, and to a certain extent they are exactly that. But Vasquez knows exactly what he is saying, which was not always the case.
The first time Stu Vetter spoke to Vasquez, the player was poised to move to America and play his junior year of high school at Montrose Christian. A language barrier existed between Vetter, Montrose’s coach, and Vasquez, one that initially proved problematic.
“I kept asking him how tall he was,” Vetter said. “My translation to that was that he was seven-feet tall. And I said, ‘Oh, okay. I'm gonna get a big guy. We're gonna get a big guy.’ So our first conversation was based on him being a seven-foot player. I always kid him that as we kept talking he kept getting shorter. I told him, ‘You're a point guard at 6-6, but you weren't what we thought we were going to get at first.’”
Vasquez arrived having only ever played point guard, but the responsibilities of that position carried slightly different at Montrose than it did in his home country.
“What he had to learn here was how to run a system,” Vetter said. “Over there, he hadn't been taught how to run a secondary break or get into sets. He was just up and down the floor as a talent.”
To Vasquez’s dismay, Vetter told him he wasn’t going to be the team’s point guard right away. Montrose already had an established point guard named Taishi Ito, who now plays for the University of Portland. But Vetter offered a compromise: If Vasquez got the rebound, he could run the offense on the ensuing transition.
“He came to me and said, ‘Coach, my coach over in Venezuela never wanted me to rebound ever,’” Vetter recalled. “I said, ‘Well Greivis, you're 6-foot-6 and you stretch out. You're aggressive. If you get the rebound, take it and go.’ He loved that idea.”
On Saturday, Vasquez pulled down nine defensive rebounds, which afforded him nine opportunities in transition alone to kick start Maryland’s offense. One came with just more than two minutes remaining in regulation, off a missed layup by Ty Lawson. He grabbed the ball, turned and surged upcourt, scanning the floor for any available options. He chose the wrong one, but he learned from the mistake. He’s always learning.
Three weeks prior to Maryland’s win over North Carolina, on the final day of what had been a tumultuous January for the Terrapins’ star guard, Vasquez fell one assist shy of the triple-double he had longed for since his freshman season. In a win over Miami at Comcast Center, Vasquez tallied 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
As the clock wound down, Bowie – who also played at Montrose Christian – sidled up to Vasquez and mentioned that Vasquez’s long-sought goal remained in sight. Just one more assist, Bowie told him.
With 15.3 seconds remaining, Vasquez tossed a pass to Bowie, who missed a reverse layup attempt. Bowie was fouled in the process and while he prepared to attempt his free throws, Vasquez gave him some good-natured jabbing.
“Yeah, I messed up his triple-double,” Bowie said afterward with a grin. “Because I told him about it, and then I didn’t think it was going to be me that was going to mess it up.”
Vasquez, also in a jovial mood after the win, said he forgave Bowie for preventing what he called “my triple-double.” It obviously was something Vasquez wanted. Heck, after the month he had just completed, it was something he felt he needed. Vasquez shot just 30.7 percent from the field in the month of January. He also quarreled with his own team’s student section during one game in which he felt they were being particularly critical of his play. He desired to wash his hands of the previous four weeks, and he felt a triple-double would help him accomplish that. It was on his mind.
And that might have been his biggest obstacle.
With 4:36 to go in overtime on Saturday, Vasquez fed the ball to Cliff Tucker, who then scored a layup to tie the game for the fifth time that afternoon. It was Vasquez’s 10th assist, which completed his triple-double, and he had no idea.
“Some players can be catalysts,” Williams said. “In other words, they can make everybody play. Greivis is one of those guys. In other words, some guys score 20 or whatever, but they don't necessarily make other players play. Greivis can make us play, and I like to see him with that emotion. That just rubbed off on the other players.”
Of Vasquez’s 10 assists, five went to Tucker, who finished with a career-high 22 points. One three occasions, Vasquez dished to Hayes, who then connected from three-point range. Hayes tallied 17 points on the day.
Vasquez recorded 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, joining Derrick Lewis (who accomplished the feat twice in 1987) as the only players in Maryland history to produce a triple-double. But it was only after Vasquez made his way through the mob of delirious students who rushed the court at the final buzzer and partook in a radio interview with Johnny Holliday that he learned of his achievement.
“I didn't know that until I walked off the court,” Vasquez said. “It was funny because sometimes when I'm close to getting a triple double, I'm trying to get it and I'm thinking about it. This time, you know, I didn't think about it and I got it.”
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