They made Greivis Vasquez, then they broke the mold

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; D01

It is senior night in College Park, which just demands a good Greivis Vasquez story or two, no?

Two years ago on a team charter to Miami, cellphone to his ear. The charming, if accented, English of a cocksure Venezuelan absolutely making a Maryland coed coo.

"Why should you go out with me?" he asked the young woman on the other end. "You should go out with me because I'm good looking, I'm a great basketball player and I'm going to be very wealthy one day."

Debbie Yow, the eavesdropping athletic director seated in front of him on the plane, almost made Vasquez blush when she asked whom he was talking to.

She could have been a student-athlete. She could have been Shakira, Jessica Alba or Maria Sharapova. Didn't matter. Even as a sophomore, Greivis Vasquez oozed and seeped confidence -- in everything.

His four-year tenure at Maryland was not a career as much as a four-act play. Filled with theater. Filled with athletic arrogance of the highest art.

Shimmying. Playing to the crowd. Showing the Cameron Crazies he was crazier. Taking on his own fans if he felt they needed some Caracas junk mouthed to them.

Spills and thrills, each spring semester.

Like the night last season he slung the stone and knocked out North Carolina, the uber-emotional player, figuratively standing back-to-back with his uber-emotional coach in a bar brawl -- primal screams of the victors to follow.

See, whether they can drop Duke on Wednesday night or not -- whether Gary Williams and his kindred on-court spirit can spread frosting on top of this less-maddening, much more satisfying season -- really doesn't matter in the long haul.

Gary and Greivis won. They vanquished their detractors, many of whom did not want either of them to return to Maryland this season.

It's ridiculous to think about now, with Maryland firmly in second place in the ACC with a chance to claim the conference regular season title, but both of their legacies were embattled about this time a year ago.

Wednesday night, scalpers are asking for $600 or more to watch the signature college basketball game in America. As you read this, Jay Bilas and Erin Andrews are off to College Park, waiting to take in the fourth-ranked Blue Devils and the No. 22 Terrapins instead of in Lawrence, Kan., to see the No. 2 Jayhawks and fifth-ranked Kansas State.

Gary and Greivis -- the force, will and personalities of gym rats from different generations -- brought them here. Oh, and this undersized, ultra-cohesive crew that also stayed together. The way this Maryland team solves problems, finds ways to win, resembles a bunch of old heads at the YMCA holding court all afternoon, a group the bigger, more athletic kids keep yelling "next" toward so they can beat them before the gym closes.

Count us as firm believers that the late-season drama Maryland has experienced the past three years, in which getting into the tournament has come down to a late February-early March run, has steeled the Terrapins and made them poised under pressure this season.

"God got me through situations where I was frustrated at the time, but now I'm calm and more mature," Vasquez said last week. "And my decision-making is so much better because I went through three tough years. Freshman year was tough. Sophomore year was tough. Even last year, everybody was against us and we got to the tournament.

"Now, I know how to handle that. I wish I could play two more years. I guarantee you we win the national championship. But it's only four years. I'm happy I came back. I'm happy for the school."

Just two players in Maryland history have scored more points than Vasquez. He would need 200 points to catch Juan Dixon and he is fewer than 100 short of Len Bias. Lenny Bias. A decent run in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments and he easily passes inarguably the greatest player in Terrapins history.

Much local debate has ensued as to where Vasquez fits in to the Greatest Terps of All Time conversation. Walt Williams said Vasquez belongs in the top five, right there with Dixon and right behind Bias, himself, Joe Smith and Albert King. Other longtime Terps observers can't possibly put such a high-risk, high-reward player alongside Adrian Branch, Len Elmore or John Lucas.

Again, it doesn't matter. In Gary's tenure, he carried Maryland like maybe only Walt Williams carried Maryland. Not being a numbers guy, it's still hard to get around the fact that Vasquez is the only player in ACC history with 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds. (Okay, and 400 turnovers.)

But isn't that the beauty of Greivis? He's been the ultimate high-wire act, a trapeze artist without a safety net. No fear, not a care in the world, a cliff diver in high tops, ready to either seize the ACC player of the year award from Duke's Jon Scheyer in a nationally televised duel or go down in flames with a no-look turnover.

"You need someone that's a little crazy out there," Gary Williams said two years ago. "Greivis does that very well."

Of Greivis cruising around campus on his moped, former Terp Dave Neal once said: "He doesn't abide by the laws or anything. He just kind of drives around and goes crazy."

Many Tobacco Road coaches might agree.

"Greivis is fly, man," former Maryland player Bambale Osby told The Post's Dan Steinberg in 2008. "We call him Mr. GQ. He's like Tom Brady of our team. That's who he is. He dates competitive cheerleaders and softball players. He's just something else."

A while after she heard him talking to that young woman on the phone -- yes, she was a student-athlete -- Yow teased Vasquez but also wanted to know what happened. "I said to him, 'Did you go out with her?' And of course, yes, he did," she said.

"I don't know if his AD should be telling that story, but there's something about that I really like," Yow said. "He focuses, decides and goes for it. He goes after the win. He goes after the girl. I really do kind of like that about him."

Join the crowd.

Four years after his first grand night in College Park, through all the tumult and the triumph, Greivis Vasquez has made it more than a very enjoyable time at the theater. Actually, it's been tremendous.

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