Kevin Durant, Greivis Vasquez will play their roles — against each other — in NBA playoffs
By Mike Wise,
For Greivis Vasquez’s information, his former high school teammate, the 6-foot-10, corn-silk-thin dude who used to call him “Gravy” at Montrose Christian, watched Friday night.
“Oh yeah, he looked real good,” Kevin Durant said.
He saw Vasquez, who in a year morphed from a college star at Maryland into a role player for the Memphis Grizzlies, loft a no-look pass above the rim to Darrell Arthur. Arthur slammed the ball through for the Grizzlies, who were playing at home when they knocked top-seeded San Antonio out of the playoffs in Game 6 of their first-round series.
The crowd was electric as they leapt from their seats; a favored opponent was vanquished; and Vasquez, with 11 points and the prettiest of assists, had played a key role.
Just like Maryland, no?
“Yes, sir — except for playing against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili,” the former Terrapins star said by telephone Saturday afternoon. “Those guys are so good. Manu is like my idol. I hope to be as good as him one day. During the game, I don’t think about it much.
“But when I look at the film, I’m like: ‘This is unbelievable. I can’t believe I just got fouled by Tim Duncan. I can’t believe I’m playing against Tony Parker. I can’t believe I’m speaking Spanish with Manu Ginobili and we share the same agent.’ ”
It’s hard to believe Greivis, a year after spinning all of College Park on his fingertips, was boarding a plane for Oklahoma City for a Western Conference semifinal series against the Thunder, led by Durant.
“That’s pretty cool when you think about it,” Durant said by telephone from Oklahoma City early Saturday evening. “We’ve both come a long way and to end up playing in a series together in the NBA so young, you can’t help but feel blessed.”
There are other days to illustrate why Miami won’t win it all this year, why Dallas is finally good enough defensively to perhaps topple the Lakers and whether or not Boston’s championship window slams shut this postseason, not to mention Shaquille O’Neal’s career.
But in keeping with the NBA’s changing-of-the-guard theme, today is for the two most prominent graduates of Montrose Christian School’s Class of 2006, who could claim an unusual boast at their five-year reunion:
“I bet you didn’t play your high school teammate and good friend in the second round of the NBA playoffs.”
K.D. and G.V., linked by hoops and history — in their early 20s, living the dream differently in a pair of NBA small markets, about to battle for a spot in the Western Conference finals opposite either Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki.
“I’ve heard of other stories where guys played on the same teams but not as recent,” said Stu Vetter, who coached both players at the basketball factory hard off Rockville Pike. “In some ways, it’s understandable. Both of them were highly recruited, highly sought-after players. But you don’t see them all of a sudden playing against each other in the NBA playoffs five years after they got out. It’s pretty amazing.”
Laker teammates Ron Artest and Lamar Odom grew up playing on the same AAU team in New York, and brothers Marc and Pau Gasol could end up dueling each other in the pivot in the conference finals should the Lakers and Grizzlies advance. Vasquez and Durant are family, too, despite their obvious differences.
Vasquez, 24, is, of course, the colorful and charismatic Venezuelan who opted to return for his final year at Maryland after originally declaring for the draft his junior year — “I supported him whether he stayed in school or left after his junior year,” said Durant, who worked out with Vasquez that summer.
Durant, who left Texas after just one year, teems with humility. He’s that rare combination of work ethic and talent now considered an annual candidate for the NBA’s most valuable player award. At 22, he still resembles the same gangly kid who made two-hour commutes on the Metro from Suitland to attend Montrose Christian, sometimes getting there as early 6 a.m. so David Adkins, the former Montrose assistant now with the Maryland women’s program, could work the two seniors out before classes started.
“I’m very happy for him,” Durant said. “We both came a long way and now I consider him my brother. I’m really happy for him and his team — hopefully he doesn’t play his best this series.”
Vasquez: “We’re going to see each other for a little bit today I hope. You know, we are brothers. But when we get on the court, we’re both going to be fighting to win.”
Durant remembers Vasquez in high school as the kid who often kept to himself while he slowly learned English. “He pushed me, though. Every day I came in, he pushed me. Everybody else just called him Greivis, but I called him Gravy. I liked it better.”
Vetter could go on about both players all day, but he particularly mentions a March 2006 game at Coolidge High between Montrose and Oak Hill Academy, a back-and-forth run between two national prep powerhouses.
Regarded as one of the greatest high school games ever played in the Washington area behind Lew Alcindor’s Power Memorial vs. Morgan Wootten-coached DeMatha in 1965, “the farther away the game in 2006 gets the more people will look at its real importance,” Vetter said.
A constellation of stars took the floor in that game — Durant guarded by Michael Beasley, Vasquez trying to contain Ty Lawson and Adrian Bowie dueling Nolan Smith. Former Maryland forward Landon Milbourne and former Virginia Tech forward Jeff Allen were also on Oak Hill’s roster. The game was won when Bowie tipped in a shot at the buzzer.
In one game, there were four NBA players on the court, a future national champion and all of them were good or great college players, including Durant and Vasquez, who will suit up Sunday in Oklahoma City for opposite teams, a mere five years after they ran the court together in Rockville.
Like their high school coach said, pretty amazing.
“The biggest about thing K.D., he’s a great person,” Vasquez said. “He has been able to handle all the stuff God has thrown his way. Humble guy, you know. Two things about him I know the most: He knows how to play basketball and he knows how to treat people. Even when he was young, I looked up to him.”