Vasquez Learns From the Master

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 24 -- Greivis Vasquez had to expect that the next time they crossed paths, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski would have something special in store for him after what the Maryland sophomore guard did last February -- on Coach K Court, no less -- coming within one rebound of a triple-double in a Terrapins victory.

But isn't siccing Kobe Bryant on him a bit extreme?

Vasquez, the starting point guard for the Venezuelan national team, had a more intense than expected introduction to the FIBA Americas Championship this week, as he was matched up against Bryant, whom he called "the best player in the world, man."

Venezuela won the tip-off and Vasquez could barely get the ball across half court before Bryant was hounding him, refusing to give much room to breathe or make an entry pass. Bryant's arms were moving so frantically, he appeared to have more than two. Then, he poked the ball from Vasquez and dived to the ground to retrieve it.

"I was shocked. I never thought he was going to play defense on me like that. I thought he was just going to chill," Vasquez said. "It was exciting, growing up watching Kobe Bryant play, and all of a sudden, he's just playing me like it's his final game. It was unreal, the way he was playing. I wish that feeling comes again -- in the NBA."

Vasquez didn't back down, though. He had a team-high 12 points in Venezuela's 112-69 loss against the Krzyzewski-led Team USA on Wednesday and mixed it up, too, matching Bryant's physical play with a few shoves of his own. He even got tangled with Bryant after Bryant picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the game, and was on the receiving end of a Bryant stare down. "He really studied my game," Vasquez said about Bryant, who had watched a DVD of Vasquez's games at Maryland, "but he took the ball from me two times. I was really mad."

At 20, Vasquez is the youngest player for Venezuela -- which also has George Mason senior forward Jesus Urbina -- and the second-youngest player in this 10-team tournament. Vasquez, a native of Caracas who moved to Maryland to play high school basketball at Montrose Christian, said he expects to build upon his international experience when he returns to school. Classes at Maryland begin next week, but Vasquez may go home soon if Venezuela (0-3) is unable to make it out of the preliminary round, which concludes Sunday. "This is going to help me a lot. I've been playing basketball all year round, nonstop," he said. "I'm going to be playing with guys my age, my level [in college], so we'll see what's going to happen. I'll take a little rest and get ready, because I want to win a national championship."

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