Terps seek big performance after star’s exit from stage
Former Maryland guard Vasquez often thrived against the Blue Devils
Nearly 10 months have passed since Greivis Vasquez last suited up for Maryland, but the point guard who was picked 28th in the NBA draft following a brilliant four seasons in College Park still casts a long shadow over the Terrapins.
In October, Coach Gary Williams was bombarded with questions at the ACC’s preseason media gathering about how he planned to replace Vasquez’s scoring and leadership on a team with six newcomers. On Sunday, when Maryland travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face No. 1 Duke, the outcome will likely turn on how well Williams has done just that.
Maryland (10-4, 0-1) was the last team to beat Duke (14-0, 1-0), now riding a 24-game winning streak. And Vasquez was a major reason why, scoring 20 points in the 79-72 victory at Comcast Center on March 3 that clinched a share of the ACC’s regular season title, capped a storybook Senior Day and sent thousands of delirious students storming onto the gym floor.
As Vasquez’s career progressed, he thrived on taking on the toughest foes in the most hostile arenas, despite the longest odds.
That passion for the improbable bared itself the first time Vasquez played Duke as a freshman; he scored 18 points, then a career high, in Maryland’s 72-60 home victory on Feb. 11, 2007. Maryland went on to sweep Duke that season, with Vasquez coming within a rebound of a triple-double as the Terrapins toppled Duke at Cameron a few weeks later.
So it was only fitting Vasquez ended his career at Comcast Center by spurring the upset of fourth-ranked Duke lastMarch in what Dino Gregory, a co-captain of this season’s squad, considers the biggest game ever played in the arena.
Said Williams, when asked about Vasquez’s performances against Duke, “He was one of those guys — and not everyone is like that — who really in a lot of big games would play his best game against the best teams.
“He grew up with challenges. That became part of his nature — the challenge of moving to the U.S. [from Venezuela]; the challenge of not speaking the language [fluently, at first]. He probably took it personally, which is a great way to motivate yourself: ‘ These guys think they’re better than us!’ or ‘People think I’mnot a first-round draft choice,’ which a lot of people didn’t.”
Vasquez’s presence endures months after his college career ended, found in the unlikely form of 6-10 sophomore center Jordan Williams, who leads the Terrapins in scoring (17.6 points per game) and rebounding (11.8 per game) and consistently presents opponents with a major headache in the paint. The sophomore credits much of his development to what he learned from Vasquez, his roommate on road trips during his freshman year.
“He just told me to watch what he was doing— not in an arrogant way, but about things I could do to help lead the team,” Williams said of Vasquez. “He was like my big brother. He took me under his wing.”
It was a calculated move on Vasquez’s part, Gary Williams suspects. Maryland’s seniors are allowed to choose their roommates for road games. Vasquez requested the big freshman with even bigger potential.
“Knowing Greivis, he looked at it a little selfishly,” Williams said recently. “We needed a big guy that could play, and [ Vasquez] was mature enough to see that if we could get Jordan to where he could rebound and play, it would help the team.”
There are traces of Vasquez elsewhere on this season’s squad, too, in the on-court swagger of freshmen guards Pe’ShonHoward and Terrell Stoglin. Howard hit the game-winner with 4.6 seconds remaining in a 75-74 win over College of Charleston onNov. 10.
“It must be that number,” Jordan Williams mused afterward, referring to the No. 21 that Howard wears. “Greivis wore that number. So it must be that number that makes you want to take those big shots. . . . He’s not scared to take it, and that’s huge to say for a freshman. Really huge.”
Stoglin lacks Howard’s defensive heft but represents a sorely needed three-point scoring threat (he has made 42.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc).
Still, the Terrapins’ half-court offense has been a work-in-progress without Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne, whose chemistry steeped for four years.
“A lot of times after we run the plays, once it breaks down, we kind of get lost,” senior Cliff Tucker said afterMaryland’s 79-75 loss to Boston College on Dec. 12. “We don’t know who’s going to get the ball, who’s going to do what.”
That said, Maryland shored up its chief weaknesses in recent weeks. The team is getting off to quicker starts. Players are communicating better on defense. They’ve cut down on turnovers, a natural result of getting to know one another’s tendencies. And their free throw shooting has gone from poor to merely mediocre.
Against Duke, however, Maryland will need to do just about everything well.
The Blue Devils have yet to show vulnerability. After losing highly touted freshman point guard Kyrie Irving to injury, they’ve gotten stronger, with Upper Marlboro’s Nolan Smith proving to be the rare guard who can run the offense and lead the scoring at the same time.
The way Maryland has been practicing, Gregory believes the Terrapins are ready for the challenge of the No. 1 team and a 9,314-seat arena that’s as deafening to opponents as an 80,000seat domed NFL stadium.
“ The thing you can’t do is be afraid going down to Duke,” Gregory said Saturday. “And nobody on this team is afraid.”
“He was one of those guys— and not everyone is like that— who really in a lot of big games would play his best game against the best teams.” Maryland Coach Gary Williams says of ex-Terp Greivis Vasquez, above.