Greivis Vasquez scores two of his team-high 20 points against… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
COLLEGE PARK — Gary Williams and Greivis Vasquez have long been each other's most passionate advocates.
When Williams, the Maryland men's basketball coach, was criticized in the media last season over the team's direction and recruiting, it was Vasquez, the star player, who snapped at reporters: "He has got more money than all of you guys together. He's not worried about what you guys say."
When Vasquez is called a showoff by fans, it's Williams who says his senior guard is often misunderstood.
On Tuesday, Vasquez was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Williams was honored as ACC Coach of the Year -- a rare double for any ACC school outside the state of North Carolina. The conference is based in that state, and either Duke or North Carolina has won every ACC tournament since 1997 except for 2004, when Maryland won it.
Tuesday's awards were a chance for the two men -- the faces of the program in recent years -- to revel in each other's successes and in how far each has traveled to get there, often over rocky terrain.
"I'm going to really cry," Vasquez said Tuesday afternoon before he had the opportunity to sit down with Williams so they could congratulate each other. "We're both so emotional. I just love him, man. I want to be like him."
Vasquez earned 39 votes in the balloting, Duke's Jon Scheyer got 12 votes and Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney (Towson Catholic) got two. Williams got 42 votes, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski got eight. Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg had two, with Florida State's Leonard Hamilton getting one.
It was only a year ago that Williams, 65, and the team were under criticism when it appeared that the Terps could miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years. The Terps upset North Carolina in the regular season, made the NCAA tournament and advanced to the second round.
The coach referenced that earlier period at his post-game news conference after Maryland beat Duke, 79-72, last week in the final home game for Vasquez and two other seniors. "We got dogged pretty good last year when I think they didn't deserve it," Williams said. "I'm really happy for our players who stuck it to some people who had a little bit too much to say last year."
On Tuesday, the coach was asked whether last season's critics provided him motivation. "I don't want to talk about that," he replied. "This is a happy day for all of us."
The 19th-ranked Terrapins have a first-round bye in the ACC tournament before opening play Friday night against the winner of the Georgia Tech-North Carolina game.
Vasquez said candidly that he has always drawn inspiration from those who doubt his abilities.
"After we went through so much and being where are now is such an unbelievable feeling," Vasquez said.
"People doubted me every time. I'm not a great athlete, I can't barely dunk. That was just my motivation every day. You know, I wanted to prove everybody wrong."
Vasquez also said he is motivated by his mother in Venezuela. He said it was difficult to leave her for high school at Montrose Christian, where he was sometimes overshadowed by current Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.
Vasquez said he wants to pay his mother back by graduating -- her wish for him -- and being successful after college.
"My mom is my heart," he said. "My mom and dad got divorced. And I used to live with my mom so I would completely leave my mom alone [when he left for high school] so my mom was crying every day. You have to deal with that at such a young age."
Williams and Vasquez possess a number of similarities. Neither ever seems quite satisfied with his achievements. Neither allows himself to be defined by his critics.
Williams smiled Tuesday when told of Vasquez's comments that the player wanted to emulate the coach.
"He wants to be like me? I thought I did a good job with him, too," Williams said, joking.
Then Williams said: "We've got similar things in terms of the drive. He's always been able to judge himself with how well he has played. As long as Greivis is able to judge himself in that way, he's going to keep improving."