Greivis Vasquez is moving closer to a destination he has often dreamed about since leaving Venezuela to attend high school in the United States: the NBA.
With the NBA draft Thursday night at New York's Madison Square Garden, Maryland's second-leading career scorer seems as passionate about making it at the highest level of professional basketball as he once was about proving himself as an elite college player.
Not surprisingly, Vasquez is showing his typical bravado by predicting where he might be drafted.
"A lot of people are going to be shocked," he said recently, in between workouts for several NBA clubs.
Long projected in mock drafts as a second-rounder, Vasquez suggested he could be picked in the first round -- an assessment shared by Herb Rudoy, his Chicago-based agent, and supported by a high-ranking member of the Memphis Grizzlies front office who said Monday that "he is a player we're interested in." The Grizzlies pick 28th.
"I think Greivis is going to be a terrific pro and that a lot of teams are going to look back and wish they had drafted him," Rudoy said Monday. "He's got moxie. Everywhere he goes, his teams win. He demands from his teammates that they win. I think that whoever passes on him is going to be making a huge mistake in this draft."
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams, "I've always said this and I feel very strongly about this: Greivis will make whatever team he goes to a better team because he knows the game, he knows how to play. He has a tremendous amount of experience, not just here at Maryland, but playing for the Venezuelan national team against Kobe [Bryant] and those guys [on the U.S team]. He's played more basketball than most guys in the draft."
Jay Bilas, who has watched Vasquez extensively as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, said Vasquez's emotional style of play should be viewed as a positive. "I'd rather have a guy like him who shows some emotion than somebody you have to beg to play," Bilas said. "You don't have to wind that guy up. I think it's easier to calm a guy's emotions down than to jack him up. His stuff is all good."
Though Bilas said Vasquez "is not an NBA-caliber athlete," he thinks his skills, size and basketball savvy translate well to the pro game. Bilas said Vasquez is a rarity, a player who improved his game over four years and has seen his NBA stock rise between the end of his junior year and senior year.
"It's kind of the old style, the way it used to be. A kid developed in college. You didn't think he was that good as a freshman or sophomore, he matured as a junior and then as a senior he became a really good player," Bilas said. "Those days are gone now. Now we tend to look with a little jaundiced eye at things; a kid sticks around he's got more flaws."
Williams, who often defended Vasquez's outbursts and inconsistencies his first three years, said NBA scouts should look at the way his former star dominated good players and teams -- his triple double as a junior against No.3 North Carolina and his performance in leading the Terps to an upset of No. 4 Duke last season -- as a measuring stick.
"You go against Tywon Lawson and get 35 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, obviously, that's pretty good," Williams said. "You go against the team that won the national championship this year and have a great game, obviously, you can do some things. You get 10 points against a good Michigan State team in the last minute and 50 seconds, you must be able to do some things pretty well."
Ryan Blake, who along with his legendary father, Marty, runs the NBA's scouting service, said that the lack of true point guards in this year's draft could help Vasquez's status, as well as the fact that "he's highly competitive, he's got great court awareness, quick hands, he can pass the ball."
But Vasquez's biggest flaws -- his inability to defend quicker guards on the perimeter as well as an inconsistent outside shot -- have raised some questions among NBA scouts, Blake said.
Williams said he thinks Vasquez knows the game "well enough defensively and offensively to be a factor at the defensive end of the court."
Yet Blake said that Vasquez could be a first-round pick because "of the old cliche: It only takes one to like him."
If Vasquez does end up being chosen in the first round, it will mark the first time a Maryland player has been taken in the opening round since Chris Wilcox and Juan Dixon, who were the eighth and 17th picks, respectively, in the 2002 draft after leading the Terps to the national championship.
Steve Blake, D.J. Strawberry and James Gist were subsequent second-round selections, in 2003, 2007 and 2008, respectively. A first-round draft choice is guaranteed a two-year contract, with those picked toward the bottom of the first round slotted to make around $850,000 to $1 million a year.
Rudoy said draft position was ultimately less important than finding a good fit.