It wasclear¬†from the start that the kid has cojones. On Oct. 14, the day of hisfirst practice at Maryland, Greivis Vasquez marched up to the office ofnotoriously tempestuous Terps coach Gary Williams. The 6'5" freshmanknocked on the door, stood at attention in the threshold and barked,"Reporting for duty, sir!" Then he saluted his new general and walkedaway.
Vasquez, a comboguard who hails from Venezuela, is College Park's fearless plebe. Thanks to hisacrobatic and passionate playing style, Vasquez has been the catalyst off thebench for No. 23 Maryland (8--1 through Sunday), which is off to its best startin five years. In a 72--66 win over previously unbeaten Illinois on Nov. 28,Vasquez scored 17 points, including 15 in an electric second-half performance.He rescued the Terps after they nearly blew a 15-point first-half lead, scoringin nearly every way imaginable down the stretch, while his family listened tothe Internet radio feed back home in Caracas. "They don't know anyEnglish," he says, "but they were hearing 'Vasquez! Vasquez with theball!' and going crazy."
Vasquez is a rarebasketball export from a baseball-mad nation that has produced nearly 200 majorleaguers but just two NBA-caliber hoopsters (former Rockets Oscar Torres andCarl Herrara). His father, Gregorio, is a New York Yankees fan, but Greivispreferred basketball because, he says, he was "too hyper [for] baseball; Icouldn't wait around for the ball to be hit to me." Greivis switched tohoops at age nine; by 16 he had made Venezuela's junior national team. In June2005, to improve his basketball skills, Vasquez left home to attend MontroseChristian School in Rockville, Md., where he played two seasons for renownedcoach Stu Vetter. "When I handed Greivis his first pair of [school-issued]shoes--new Jordans--he said, '[These are] Big Time! ... Super Big Time!'"Vetter recalls. The phrase became Vasquez's signature saying. "Now I thinkhe has become a Super Big Time player," says Vetter.
Maryland fansagree after watching their sixth man average 9.9 points and 3.6 assists in just23.4 minutes per game. Williams calls Vasquez his John Havlicek--"You bringhim off the bench, and he changes the emotion of the team"--and Vasquez hasalso drawn comparisons to Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, a fellow South American,for his long-striding drives, flashy passes and equally showy celebrations."He's flamboyant, but that's his personality," Vetter says. "Heplays better when he's pounding his chest and firing up his teammates."
Vasquez'son-court recklessness occasionally riles Williams ("I let him know whenhe's getting cocky," the coach says), but he complements steady startingpoint guard Eric Hayes and must continue to play a key role if Maryland is tomake a run at the ACC title. After missing the NCAA tournament for two straightseasons, the Terps--thanks in large part to their fiery freshman--are on theverge of becoming Big Time again.
The versatile Vasquez dished out eight assists against St.John's.