Looking forward to seeing the new, improved Greivis Vasquez

January 14, 2009|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

When the Maryland Terps take the court tonight against Miami in their first ACC road game, the guy wearing No. 21 will look like the same Greivis Vasquez who exploded in anger at the student section during Saturday's comeback victory over Georgia Tech at Comcast Center, but it will be a slightly different guy.

The new Greivis isn't going to scream expletives at the crowd again anytime soon and - I presume - he's not going to make a post-game statement that the paying customers in College Park can take a hike if they don't want to support the team through thick and thin. His behavior during and after Saturday's game was not acceptable, and he knows it.

"I'm definitely not like that," Vasquez said by phone last night. "I'm a better guy than that. I'm here and I'm grateful to be here and I'm grateful to have fans who love me and people who have supported me in this country. I want a second chance and I want to apologize to everybody who I might have offended."

That apology seemed heartfelt. It might have been a little long in coming, but I'm guessing that the people at Maryland were just kind of hoping the incident would remain under the radar or get lost in a week of Ravensmania.

"I addressed the issue with Greivis after the game and yesterday, and that's behind us," Terps coach Gary Williams told reporters before the team traveled south yesterday. "You can't do that no matter what was said, and there were some really bad things said besides the booing from the crowd. But given that, you still can't respond. Greivis understands that, and I think you will not see that again."

We can only hope. The guy can play and he's a joy to watch whether he's slashing to the basket, making a three or just injecting his own particular brand of energy into the game. He's also, by all accounts, a very nice young man who let his emotions get away from him and then compounded the situation with his comments after the game.

"We're 12 and 3," he said Saturday. "We were 9 and 5 last year about this time. What the hell are they thinking? If they don't want to believe in us, get the hell out. We don't need them here. We need the people who are going to support and be with us. I want to say thank you to the people who were supporting us and believing in us. If you don't want to support us, get out."

Maybe that's just a passionate college kid from Venezuela expressing himself in a less-than-artful manner, but to students and parents who pay full tuition to the University of Maryland - and I'm one of them - it was pretty galling that a guy who goes there for free to prepare for the NBA is telling the paying students where to find the exit.

Williams also addressed that, sort of. He pointed out that times have changed and so have college athletes. Vasquez is a fiery player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, which - if you think about it - isn't easy to do in a basketball jersey.

"He's a different player than people are used to seeing," Williams said, "and especially how older people think a player should play. But the game is international now. You have different people from all parts of the world who react differently than we do maybe here in the United States when something happens."

Athletic director Debbie Yow met with Vasquez yesterday to discuss the incident and came away "impressed with his willingness to accept full responsibility for what he said, acknowledging to me that he was very sorry that he let his emotions get carried away when he was booed. He was concerned that our fans would think poorly of him for what he said and promised to not let that happen again."

Still, both Yow and Williams have to walk a fine line here. I'm sure there are some people who think Vasquez should sit out tonight's game for his little on-court tantrum. I know there's at least one. But Vasquez is the most dynamic player on a team that doesn't have a lot of margin for error this year, and don't think Williams didn't take that into account when he decided how to handle the situation.

Williams pointed out that Greivis has a chance to be the first player in Maryland history to lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He thinks that ought to count for something, and it does. But Greivis didn't help himself with the scouts who were there Saturday to see that kind of behavior and wonder whether he's going to be the next NBA head case.

His coach said last night that a single emotional outburst should not change anyone's opinion of Vasquez, who has been a solid citizen and an asset to the College Park community and beyond.

"There is no nicer person than Greivis Vasquez," Williams said. "I've coached in five places and I've never had the student body boo their own player. That doesn't excuse what Greivis did, but I've just never seen that."

The cynic in me knows that a lesser player might be grabbing some pine tonight, but I'm going to try to see both sides. Williams is in the early stages of building this year's team, and if I were he, I wouldn't want to be viewed in my locker room as siding with the booing fans instead of my players. Never mind the added challenge of trying to convey to a high-intensity player that he needs to watch his language when you've got some pardon-my-French issues yourself.

"I think we need his energy for sure," Williams said. "Like I said, he can't talk to anyone in the crowd anymore. That has to stop. But we need his energy. I don't want to see him go away from the way he plays."

Which brings us back to the slightly new Greivis and the old one.

The Terps, obviously, need both.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Fridays and Saturdays

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