Terps' Vasquez answers insults

Senior guard has shaken off taunts during career year

February 13, 2010|By Jeff Barker | jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK — - The Florida State fan stood in the first row behind the baseline at the Donald L. Tucker Center, cupped his hands and shouted in the direction of Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, who was warming up. "Vasquez, where is your green card?" the fan yelled.

It was hardly the first time that Vasquez - who is from Caracas, Venezuela - has encountered taunts that strayed far from basketball and into his background or ethnicity. The senior says he has grown more equipped to deal with such heckling as his career has progressed. "I'm more mature," he said.

But that doesn't make it pleasant. Last season at North Carolina State, fans "were talking about me being an immigrant and [having] a green card and stuff like that," Vasquez said a few weeks after the game. While Vasquez said he believed the fans were trying to be funny, "at the moment I thought it was racist."

Maryland (16-6, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays today at No. 8 Duke (20-4, 8-2) in a nationally televised battle of the conference's first-place and second-place teams. Duke's fans habitually needle Vasquez, sometimes speaking to him in Spanish. But there is no evidence that their banter has included talk about green cards or immigration, and Vasquez has said he enjoys playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

An ACC official said it's up to each school to monitor its fans' behavior. But policing speech is problematic. Athletic officials from several schools interviewed for this story said they face a delicate balancing act. While schools aim to prevent ugly behavior, many fear impinging students' First Amendment rights or draining excitement from the game-day experience.

"We want our fans to support our teams in the right way," said Karl Hicks, an ACC associate commissioner for men's basketball.

"Unfortunately, these [situations] do come up from time to time. Our primary focus is the safety of student-athletes, coaches and fans."

Hicks said the conference has "ongoing discussions with our schools" about fan behavior.

Hicks had no comment on the Vasquez taunts specifically or whether they had sparked discussions with schools. Florida State said the day after the Feb. 4 game that it had not been contacted by the conference about the taunts.

Quite often, Vasquez responds to barbs with his play.

At N.C. State last season, Vasquez made a 3-pointer with one second left in a game in which the Terps were winning comfortably. It would have been normal practice to run out the clock.

Was Vasquez retaliating in his own way to select fans? "It's nothing personal," he said afterward.

"I was into the game. Nothing against the fans."

In this season's game at Florida State, a fan held up a sign reading "Deport Vasquez."

The frequent boos directed at Vasquez during the game intensified when he did a shoulder shimmy after hitting a 3-pointer to put Maryland up by seven points in the second half. Most of the fans were booing Vasquez, not taunting him. The Terps won, 71-67.

Maryland coach Gary Williams praised Vasquez after the game for keeping his "composure." Williams has theorized that Vasquez is often a target for opposing fans because "Greivis is a personality that's not afraid to show his emotions. Some people resent that because you're not a cookie-cutter-type player."

Maryland forward Landon Milbourne said Vasquez seems to feed off being derided by opposing fans.

"He laughs at it, then he comes out and plays hard," said Milbourne, a senior. "He doesn't really let that get him down or anything like that. He comes out there and plays his game, and then at the end he gets to look back and say, you know, 'Yeah!' "

Notes: It will be Maryland's first appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium since the 85-44 drubbing that Duke gave the Terps last season.

Duke leads the ACC in scoring margin and 3-point shooting percentage, with Maryland second in both categories. Duke also leads the ACC in rebounding margin, while Maryland is 11th. "It's a very physical team inside," Williams said of the Blue Devils.

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