The setting was perfect for the last home game of Greivis Vasquez’s career. His parents were in the stands having made the trip from Venezuela as was his high school coach, Stu Vetter, to see him knock off the first place Blue Devils on national television. Vasquez splashed out of the gate with five of Maryland’s first 7 points as the Terps ran out to a 10-2 lead before the first media timeout. Then Maryland got into trouble when the offense stagnated and the Blue Devils started hitting open jump shots. Vasquez turned the ball over three times the rest of the half and didn’t score for the final 12 minutes as Duke closed the gap to a two point Maryland lead at the half. Then in the closing minutes when it counted most Vasquez was at his best again scoring 11 points in the final 7:45 of the game to win the game for his team. Duke’s Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith all had the same opportunity for their team but could not come through in crucial moments. The game itself mirrored Vasquez’s career at Maryland as he burst on the scene as a freshman who dazzled fans with wins at Illinois and Duke. Then some fans seemed to turn on the sophomore as his flawed team struggled to make the NCAA Tournament. A tumultuous junior season followed as the team struggled to find its identity and was battered by some historic defeats to rise up with a momentous win over eventual national champion North Carolina. We all know what Vasquez did in that famous victory. The Terps struggled out of the gate again this season a looked destined to under achieve after losing at home to William & Mary at the end of December. Vasquez struggled to balance getting his teammates involved while still carrying the scoring load as the best offensive weapon on the team. As in the win over Duke Vasquez played his best when it mattered most this season and has had a phenomenal ACC campaign that will almost certainly end with an ACC Player of the Year award.
It has always been a struggle for Vasquez to be given the credit he deserves and it starts with the fans of his own team. If your own fans don’t show you much respect no one else is likely to either. When you compare Vasquez’s statistics to freshman phenom John Wall he is superior in almost every significant category: scoring, shooting %, efficiency, assists, rebounds, turnovers and 3-point percentage. The point is not to say that Vasquez is more talented or has a better NBA potential than Wall since neither is probably accurate. Nor is it to suggest that Wall isn’t a far superior athlete and that one day very soon he’ll be a better basketball player than Vasquez. The point is that day hasn’t come yet. Wall is an excellent player and will likely lead Kentucky deep into the NCAA Tournament but he hasn’t had a better season than Greivis Vasquez even though he has played in an inferior conference, the SEC. Vasquez doesn’t get the hype that Evan Turner or Wall get because he doesn’t look good on television. He isn’t smooth, athletic or physically dominant. The media has come to equate all those things with being a great basketball player. If Vasquez could produce highlight worthy dunks or if perhaps he wasn’t Hispanic then perhaps he would fit into the common conception of a great basketball player and he would get more attention. Perhaps if Maryland hadn’t struggled as a program after Vasquez chose to come to College Park that would have been different but I’m not so sure. Many Maryland fans see Vasquez’s physical appearance, his modest athleticism, his bravado and decide he can’t, cannot possibly be as good as the overwhelming evidence indicates. Even though he amassed over 700 assists he is too selfish. Even though he has fewer turnovers than Steve Blake he is too reckless. Even though he was the only Maryland player to ever lead the team in points, assists, and rebounds the team might be better without him. Vasquez is the ultimate ‘he’s good, but…’ player in Maryland history meaning fans always seem to have a caveat about him.
Pseudo reporter Mike Wilbon wrote in the Washington Post that Vasquez wasn’t even in the top 20 of all time Maryland basketball players, a claim so mendaciously stupid it cannot even be taken seriously. Even people who know something about college basketball and not often prone to off-the-reservation asininity of Mike Wilbon are reluctant to give Vasquez full laurels. It is sad but Vasquez needed his clutch performance last night to help get past the point where his minor limitations are given equal weight to his immense talents. As Vasquez drove between Jon Scheyer and the hulking Brian Zoubek and hoisted up an impossible shot that clanged around the rim looking like it would bounce out but then dropping through the basket he vanquished more than the Blue Devils. He also vanquished all the deniers he has had to put up with for the last four years. When that improbable shot dropped he won himself Player of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, gave his team a chance to win a regular season championship and delivered a clear message to his doubters: you lost.