In fitting tribute to Vasquez, Maryland puts up big numbers

Celebration of former star's Terps career was right on target

February 20, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — If you wanted to see genuine emotion, not the phony stuff that so often comes from sports these days, you needed to see Greivis Vasquez's face light up when they honored him here Sunday.

The Maryland Terrapins did this one up right, folks.

Right before their sloppy 87-80 win over North Carolina State, they hung a banner with his No. 21 from the rafters at Comcast Center, making him only the 16th player in Maryland history accorded that tribute.

They put together a wonderful highlight reel of the former Terps great's career that played on the scoreboard, narrated in the stentorian voice of veteran announcer Johnny Holliday.

But what they probably wanted to do most of all with Vasquez was throw him his old uniform and smack him on the butt and say: "Suit up, big guy. We could really use you now."

Oh, you bet the Terrapins could use a Greivis Vasquez now, with their season on the brink, with four regular-season games remaining and their chance of making the NCAA tournament still looking like a long shot, even after the win over the Wolfpack.

Holliday, in his inimitable style, called Vasquez "possibly the most versatile player ever to wear the Maryland uniform" and "a Terp who will always be remembered as one of Maryland's greatest players."

And as Vasquez stood at center court with his arms around his mom and dad, who flew all the way from his native Caracas, Venezuela, as he accepted hugs from former and present Terps players and coach Gary Williams, as he listened to the waves of applause washing over him, it looked as if he'd fall apart at any moment.

"It was unbelievable," he said softly when the ceremony was over. "It was a dream come true. … I never imagined this."

But if you watched Vasquez at all during his four years at Maryland, watched him play with fire and flair, watched him take over so many games and practically will the Terps to a win, you knew a day like this was coming.

Vasquez plays in the NBA now, of course. He's a rookie guard with the Memphis Grizzlies struggling for playing time, trying to adjust to the travel and speed and rigors of pro basketball.

"The NBA is a different level," he said wistfully. "It's a business."

But on the college level, Vasquez was sublime. All he did his senior year was win the Bob Cousy Award as the best point guard in the nation and the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year award, too.

Over four terrific seasons at College Park, he averaged 16.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

And even though he had his rough moments with Maryland fans — he once told them to "Shut the [bleep] up!" when they booed him — the fans knew they were seeing something special whenever he touched the ball.

"I know sometimes they hated me," he said with a smile. "But inside, I think they really loved me."

How could they not?

Vasquez was the only player in ACC history to record at least 2,000 points (2,171), 750 assists (772) and 600 rebounds in his career.

Only the great Juan Dixon scored more points than Vasquez did at Maryland. And only the equally great Steve Blake ended up with more assists.

But if you just focused on the numbers, you missed the essence of Vasquez's games.

It was never just about statistics with him. It was about the way he played: the full-throttle passion, the no-look passes, the swooping, off-balance drives to the basket.

Late in the game, especially if Maryland was trailing, he'd demand the ball. And more often than not, his teammates — and Williams — would see that he got it.

"I was never trying to play to be the hero," Vasquez said of those days. "I was just trying to win."

And when he did win, no one celebrated quite like Vasquez, either.

After a great behind-the-back pass or a clutch jump shot that hit the opposing team like a dagger, Vasquez would do that silly little shimmy dance.

He'd bend down and wiggle his shoulders and hips and get the most radiant look on his face you'd ever seen. When a fan held up a "Do the Shimmy!" sign Sunday, I half expected Vasquez to break one out, just for old time's sake.

But forget the shimmy. Now his uniform number hangs in the rafters at Comcast Center, and that's way more important.

Only 15 other numbers hang up there, and they belong to the likes of John Lucas and Len Elmore, Len Bias and Walt Williams, Joe Smith and Lonny Baxter, Dixon and Blake.

Greivis Vasquez definitely belongs, too.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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