Vasquez vs. the Crazies

Maryland's antagonist relishes the chance to clash at Cameron with Duke and its fans

January 24, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - Some people travel to Mediterranean spas to find their mojo.

Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez prefers a bandbox filled with howling, undulating, body-painted Duke University partisans.

Vasquez, who has been in a shooting slump lately, said he can't imagine a better place to regain his stroke than Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium - from which he draws inspiration, energy and focus. Maryland (13-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) visits No. 2 Duke (17-1, 4-0) for the third time in Vasquez's career at noon today.

Just the thought of renewing his love-hate relationship with the Cameron Crazies turns his momentary hangdog expression - "I've been struggling," he said of his shooting - into a grin.

"That's one of my favorite spots to play," Vasquez said after Maryland topped Virginia on Tuesday night. "Especially right now that I'm struggling, because I think I can find myself back there. I just can't wait."

Cameron isn't normally considered a sanctuary for opposing players. Duke has won nine games in a row and hasn't lost at Cameron this season. It lost only one home game (to North Carolina) last season.

But Vasquez isn't your normal player. Like former tennis champion John McEnroe, Vasquez feeds on commotion. McEnroe used to war with tennis umpires. Vasquez squawks at fans, and they squawk back.

The louder the din, the better.

"They give me energy. They always have. I just want them to keep talking and talking," Vasquez said of the Cameron crew.

In previous encounters, some of the Duke fans have tried to get the attention of Vasquez - who is from Caracas, Venezuela - by addressing him in Spanish, his first language.

"They know a lot about my country, which is funny," Vasquez said. "I just love the stuff they do when I get there. I know they were talking about my president back home.

"I know they're going to come out with something good after everything with Maryland and what happened to me and all that - especially the way I'm playing," he said.

Vasquez was referring to the Georgia Tech game Jan. 10 at Comcast Center. After hearing a smattering of boos, he shouted expletives at the Maryland student section and told fans during the game to shut up. Then he said in an interview after the win, "If you don't want to support us, get out."

Vasquez later apologized for his outbursts.

At Duke last year, Vasquez was warned by one of the game officials to stop gesturing to the mocking crowd.

The Duke Basketball Report, an unofficial Blue Devils Web site, hinted recently that there might be a trace of affection for Vasquez lurking deep beneath the Duke fans' taunts. "You know, the ACC tries hard to be properly corporate and while we think Vasquez is quite often a jerk, we appreciate his anarchic attempts at undermining the powers that be," it said.

Vasquez's professed love for Cameron might sound like bravado if the junior hadn't managed to back it up with his play.

In his freshman season, he finished one rebound short of a triple double as Maryland beat the Blue Devils, 85-77, at Cameron. Duke beat Maryland, 77-65, there last season, but Vasquez had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Some critics, including opposing players and fans, have said Vasquez's antics smack of arrogance. Those who know him say he simply has an outsized personality.

Vasquez doesn't reserve his banter just for Duke fans. Two seasons ago, he cupped his hand to his ear while Clemson fans taunted him, as if to say, "I can't hear you!"

ESPN commentator and former Maryland star Len Elmore - who is working today's game for the network - said last season that Vasquez seemed to always have his motor in "overdrive."

Vasquez's jawing contrasts with the demeanors of fellow Terrapins guards Eric Hayes and Adrian Bowie, who are relatively quiet. "I think Greivis is greatly misunderstood," said Bowie's father, John. The Bowies have known Vasquez for years because Vasquez and the younger Bowie were high school teammates at Montrose Christian. Now, they room together on the road.

"Off the court, Greivis is reserved and polite," the elder Bowie said. "On the court, he's just expressing himself."

Maryland coach Gary Williams said after the Georgia Tech game that Vasquez had erred by yelling expletives at the Maryland crowd.

But Williams clearly doesn't want to rein in Vasquez's passion - the thing that makes him tick. "He's a different player than people are used to seeing," Williams said.

MARYLAND (13-5, 2-2) @ NO. 2 Duke (17-1, 4-0)

Today, noon TV: ESPN Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM Line: Duke by 16

today's game

What to watch for

Can Maryland's aggressive defense get Duke off balance? Duke is among the nation's leaders in scoring margin and is shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range in its past four games.

Key matchup

Duke 6-foot-8 forward Kyle Singler against Maryland 6-7 forward Landon Milbourne. Milbourne has often been the leading rebounder for an undersized Maryland team. Against Singler, he faces the added challenge of guarding a player adept at hitting threes.

What it means

Maryland will play Duke twice and North Carolina twice in the next month and is eager to avoid getting blanked.

JEFF BARKER

vasquez on vasquez

Some memorable Greivis Vasquez quotes:

* "Sometimes I rush, and it's just my personality. I'm over-aggressive."

- Nov. 28, 2007

* "I think our intensity level is pathetic. We just stink right now." - Dec. 22, 2007

* "I'm not here for fans. I'm here for myself, my family and for Coach Williams." - Jan. 10, 2009

* "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."

- Jan. 14, 2009

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