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Maryland men's basketball season recap: Greivis Vasquez

This week, Terrapins Insider will take a look back on the 2009-10 Maryland men’s basketball season from an individual standpoint. We’ll discuss how each player’s year went and look ahead to his role on the team going forward. Readers are encouraged to provide their thoughts in the comments section below or e-mail them to yandas@washpost.com.

If there ever was a time when Greivis Vasquez’s reach outdistanced his grasp, he sure can’t remember it. The boy who grew up playing ball on rundown courts in Caracas, Venezuela – the one who dribbled up and down streets incessantly, the one who sprinted home to safety after gunshots were fired by other players who could not agree on a call or accept defeat – told anyone who would listen that he one day would take his game to the United States, first to compete in college and then in the NBA.

Most of those who did listen quickly dismissed the boy, thinking he must be crazy.

Last October, seated at a table at a hotel in Greensboro, N.C., for ACC men’s basketball media day, Vasquez asked a few reporters who they thought would be named preseason ACC player of the year, though he already knew the answer they would give: Kyle Singler*, the senior junior forward from Duke.

* Singler was, in fact, voted the preseason ACC player of the year. He garnered 19 votes, while Vasquez finished second with 15 votes.

Vasquez was curious about what Singler possessed that he didn’t. He kept asking why Singler would receive the most votes. There was a matter-of-factness to his tone. Vasquez was not meaning to slight Singler or demean Singler’s resume. He just straight-up wanted to know what gave Singler the edge. And then, privately, Vasquez vowed that he would outperform Singler this season. He would become ACC player of the year.

Five months later, after an ACC slate in which Vasquez averaged 22.1 points, 6.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, he was voted the conference’s top performer. Since then, Vasquez has been named a second-team all-American by the Associated Press and won the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard. On Thursday, he was selected as one of the 10 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, which is given to the men's college basketball player of the year.

The second-most prolific scorer in the history of Maryland basketball, Vasquez soon will follow through on his original promise. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, he will be selected in the NBA draft in June.

There are countless statistical means by which one could measure Vasquez’s impact on Maryland over the past four years, but perhaps the most meaningful way to sum up Vasquez’s collegiate career is to look forward and anticipate how the ways in which he might be missed.

For example, who grabs the Terrapins by the collar next season when they’re down by 10 with two minutes to play and pulls them back into contention? Who feeds Jordan Williams or Cliff Tucker or Sean Mosley on fast breaks with no-look passes that freeze opponents in their tracks? Who takes the shots in the lane and on the perimeter that make you wince and cringe and smack yourself on the forehead … right up until the ball falls through the net? Who on the court will make Maryland basketball as maddeningly exhilarating as Vasquez has for the past four years?

A great line on Vasquez came from former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell: “He's sort of like Muhammad Ali. He shaked and baked and talked a lot, but he backed it up. And I think Vasquez backs up his shakin' and bakin'.”

How many bad decisions did Vasquez make with the ball during his collegiate career? A good amount. How many times did Vasquez atone for those poor choices by making plays no other player on the floor could make? Almost always.

Vasquez received much of his notoriety for his ability to score and for his ability to talk, but for him, this season was about rounding out his repertoire. He made a concerted effort not to create headlines with his pregame or postgame comments to reporters. He also made a concerted effort to get his teammates more involved in games from the outset. As he is known to do, Vasquez went to the extreme in both regards, to his and the team’s detriment.

It was almost as if Vasquez was wound too tightly. He was so focused on impressing upon others the fact that he had grown and matured that he lost sight of actually playing the game in the manner that always had brought him success. Maryland lost to Villanova, 95-86, on Dec. 6, and that might have been the turning point in Vasquez’s season. He took that loss particularly hard and has since stated his belief that if he had played better that night, the Terrapins would have won by 10. Instead, Vasquez fouled out after shooting 3 of 9 from the field and finishing with 12 points, 7 assists and 7 turnovers.

Vasquez then proceeded to score 20 or more points in seven straight games. And he never lost steam from that point forward. He eventually found a balance between asserting himself and deferring to his teammates. More importantly, he learned how to discern when Maryland needed him to take control and when it needed him to facilitate his teammates.

On Feb. 24, the Terrapins turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a nine-point win over Clemson at Comcast Center. Vasquez tallied eight assists before scoring a single point that night. He finished with 15 points and 13 assists.

On Feb. 27, Vasquez tallied 41 points on 13-of-33 shooting in a double-overtime win over Virginia Tech. Efficient? No. Necessary? On that night, yes. With Vasquez, some degree of bad always will accompany the good in his game. Over time, he learned to better manage that reality, and Maryland followers learned to embrace it. Consequently, the Terrapins claimed a share of the ACC regular season title, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season and provided their fans another season’s worth of thrills.

As simultaneously charming and aggravating as Vasquez can be, perhaps his most endearing quality is that as far as he extends his reach, he always seems to rein in whatever it was he had aimed for in the first place.

By Steve Yanda  |  April 2, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: Maryland men's basketball season recap: Gary Williams

Comments

It's hard to dispute that Greivis Vasquez is one of the most prolific players in Maryland basketball history. He has set the benchmark for all-around players. The downside was that he was also one of the most frustrating players with stretches of terrible shooting and even more horrible decision making. He will definitely have a decent career in the NBA, and may even develop into a good point guard, but Terps fans will always remember him as the player with the swagger, the shimmy, and the one who saved Gary Williams from the 2003 recruiting class.

Posted by: Russtinator | April 2, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Greivis Vasquez, from All Met to All American, just another in a seemingly endless series of great local recruits Gary got.

Posted by: Barno1 | April 2, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Oh what could have been had he been surrounded by talent for more of his career than just this season.

I sincerely believe this kid saved Gary from unsightly 3-4 win ACC season's had he not been with the team as a sophomore or junior.

Posted by: elowe2 | April 2, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Gary Williams +1

Posted by: TrueNative | April 2, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

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