Washington Post staff writer
Monday, November 9, 2009 12:00 PM
After deferring his dream to play in the NBA, University of Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez is returning for his senior year. But in Venezuela, they're more interested in what comes after that.
Washington Post reporter Steve Yanda took questions on his Post Magazine cover story, Court drama, about the college basketball star's roots in Caracas and his future in the sport.
Steve Yanda: Hello, everyone. Great to be here with you all today. Fire away with any questions about Greivis, Venezuela, the story or the Terps. I'll get to as many as I can.
Columbia Heights, D.C.: So how the heck do you pronounce his name?
Steve Yanda: Grey-vis.
Arlington, Va.: Did you notice any difference in how Vasquez carried himself in Venezuela versus here in the States? Did he seem more at home, more relaxed in one over the other?
Steve Yanda: He seemed essentially the same. Off the court, he was laid back and charismatic. On the court, he was fiery and demonstrative. And he was ultra-confident. Always ultra-confident.
The one difference I noticed in his play during practices with the Venezuelan national team was that he seemed to defer to the older, more established players. He would not always take the first open shot that came to him. Rather, his first objective seemed to be to look for guys like Hector Romero.
But he still desired to take the last shot. That much remained the same.
Washington, D.C.: just when i thought people were wising up about going to college to learn as opposed to getting a ticket punched for the pros, you drop the bomb about Venezuela waiting for what comes after the Terps. What if the NBA runs out of Kardashians for Vasquez to marry before he gets there? Que lastima.
Steve Yanda: I'm not really sure what you're getting at. If Vasquez makes it to the NBA, he will have done so only after completing four years of college. If Vasquez doesn't end up in the NBA, there are plenty of European teams who will want his services. And if for whatever reason that option comes up dry, then he is on track to have a degree on which he can fall back.
Venice, Fla.: Do you think any of the young men emulating Greivis could end up at the University of Maryland?
Steve Yanda: That's such a tough question to answer. Greivis's success certainly has opened that door, and I'm sure if another talented player from Venezuela came along, Maryland would show some interest. But as of right now, there don't appear to be any future Venezuelan prospects on Maryland's radar.
Logan North, D.C.: Vasquez is, at least theoretically, being given a college education. Does he take his studies seriously? (One gather that many, if not of most, of Gary Williams's players do not.) If he does not end up in the NBA, will he at least have a college degree, or is his future worth entirely tied up in basketball?
Steve Yanda: Greivis has said repeatedly that getting his degree is a priority for him. While I have no direct knowledge of his academic standing, I have spoken to a few people in the Maryland athletics department who say that as of now Greivis is on track to graduate in the spring.
McLean: I'm a Terp alum, but I'm also realistic. Vasquez does not have the skills to be a NBA player. He can hit a few shots, but the SG spot requires quickness, and most of all athleticism.
He has neither, and is somewhat vertically challenged as noted by last season's pro workouts. I don't see him improving on his game. It is what it is.
Steve Yanda: There wasn't really a question there, but I'll note that Greivis has said he wants to enter his professional career as a point guard, not as a shooting guard. Still, your points are valid. His height will be an advantage as a point guard, but he'll also need to develop greater quickness to guard smaller, speedier opponents. And his shot could certainly use some more consistency. As his senior season plays out, we'll see whether he can make the adjustments in his game necessary to become more appealing to NBA teams. It's too early to make a judgement on that just yet.
Washington, D.C.: Not much for college basketball but enjoyed the story ... But why were his own fans booing him? Not saying he was right to curse them out, but doesn't that make them pretty jerky "fans"?
Steve Yanda: Well, the team was coming off a loss to Morgan State, which didn't sit well with too many fans. And at that point in the game, neither Greivis nor his teammates were playing particularly well, though they did end up coming back to claim the win.
gabel: Greivis is a really interesting character. Funny that his nickname at home is Loco. Note that his mentor ended both quotes with "He is crazy." But I think he's crazy in a good way. Obsessed with winning and totally consumed with proving himself as a great player. I think a kid like this, who cares this much, if his worst crime is a little extra gyration after a made basket, deserves the support of Maryland basketball fans.
Steve Yanda: Well, the NCAA is trying to crack down this season on those post-basket extra gyrations -- from Greivis and every other player -- but your point is valid. However, some fans have written to me in the past concerned that sometimes Greivis gets carried away with the character that he has become. And that point is valid, as well.
One thing Greivis said while I was in Venezuela was that he was going to make a more concerted effort to be mature in his comments off the court and in his reactions to the happenings on the court this season. He knows how important his image is as he prepares to enter the NBA draft next summer.
So what happens ...: When Vasquez DOESN'T make the NBA? Something about these kinds of stories is compelling -- there's always hardship and struggle, and much greater consequences than ones own career riding on the shoulders of the star. It's like the little profiles they do of Olympi athletes -- each one is painted as talented, determined, worthy of gold, but only a teeny fraction of them will actually go on to win. Getting to the NBA is so competitive. What does it mean for him back in Venezuela if he doesn't get drafted?
Steve Yanda: This is an interesting question. Certainly, the basketball fans in Venezuela will be disappointed if Greivis does not make it to the NBA, but I don't think they'll disown him or anything. Many of the people there that I spoke with understood, as you pointed out, how difficult it is to make it to the NBA, much less last in the league for a sustained period of time. They hope that he makes it. Many of them expect him to make it. But if he does not, then they will wait for the next NBA prospect to come along and attach their desires to him.
Washington, D.C.: He says in the story that if the NBA thing doesn't work out he wants to start a company that will provide jobs for Venezuela ... sounds awfully PR-ish to me. Is he sincere about that? More importantly, is he capable of that?
Steve Yanda: Is he sincere about it? Hard to say. He certainly is cognizant of how important his image is to his NBA draft stock. Is he capable of following through? Absolutely. This guy has significant pull in Caracas, especially for someone in his early 20s. If the NBA doesn't work out, he could play either in Europe or back home in the Venezuelan professional league. Either way, his pull only will grow stronger.
Arlington, VA: I'm not a Maryland fan (UNC graduate) but am a big fan of Gary Williams and the way he coaches. Vazquez seems to be a talented player but wow, the attitude. I know it drives him but it also seems to be his Achilles heel. The reaction to the booing of the fans on his home court was just amazing to me. Do you see him channeling the rage into positive results or do you think it will be his downfall?
Steve Yanda: I don't know that that's an either/or question. I do see him channeling his intense passion into positive results. I think that's what has gotten him this far in his basketball career and will continue to propel him forward. However, if he fails to learn how to control that passion, I also could see it leading to a career in which he does not live up to his immense potential.
Washington, D.C.: At one point in the story, after the trouble with fans, he vents and says the fans have to be patient and support him. Is this need for "support" a sign of immaturity? I think a lot of young athletes who have been stars of their teams or maybe coddled in terms of "being special" have a hard time adjusting to negative feedback like that.
Steve Yanda: I don't think it's a sign of immaturity. We all want support in the things that we do, though very few of us are in a position to be booed while at work. At that point in the season, Greivis was doing his best to remain positive about a team that appeared to be in shambles. One other thing he said that night at his apartment was that he really felt the team could turn things around and do something special. He turned out to be quite prophetic.
Alex, VA: I have seen him play in person several times and on television even more often. His whining and complaining overshadows his play. Do NBA teams mark down players like him with poor attitudes when it comes time for the draft?
Steve Yanda: I disagree that his "whining and complaining" overshadows his play. If he wasn't any good, you wouldn't see him on the court enough to ascertain that he is a whiner or a complainer. He led his team in scoring, rebounding and assists last season. He was a main reason why Maryland scratched and clawed their way into the NCAA tournament. Does his flamboyant nature make him stand out even more than he otherwise would? Absolutely. But no one would care that he was so flamboyant -- and Gary Williams would tolerate his antics a lot less -- if he didn't perform as well as he does.
To answer your question, NBA teams do take into consideration a player's makeup when deciding whether to draft him. And Greivis knows that, which is why he has said he'll try to focus on being more mature this season.
Rockville, MD: So seeing him in person playing over the summer, does he look "better" than last year? That is, the Pro workouts didnt go well so has he worked on and improved on any parts of his game that you could notice? If his shot hasnt gotten better or his quickness hasn't improved, he'd be still on the fence this year looking in at the NBA. thanks, and good write up btw. Really enjoyed it.
Steve Yanda: Thanks for the kind words about the story. The photos were outstanding as well, and for that the extremely talented Meredith Kohut deserves all the credit.
Back to your question: Greivis played in a bit of a different role for the Venezuelan national team (less relied upon as a scorer, more relied upon as a field general), so it's tough for me to say whether his shot has improved. Whether his shot or his quickness improved in the offseason should become evident in the next few weeks as Maryland begins its season. To be certain, though, Greivis is acutely aware of the areas in which NBA personnel told him he needed to improve his game.
So you really don't think ...: he'd be ostracized or looked down upon in Venezuela if he didn't actually end up making the NBA? It's nice to think they're embracing Greivis the man, but I'd bet it's more likely they're embracing Greivis the basketball star. In which case, if he doesn't follow through, they'll quickly turn his back on him. No one ever stays famous in good esteem for -almost - making the pros. Americans are fickle like that, can't imagine it's much different elsewhere.
Steve Yanda: That's a pretty ethnocentric view, but it's worth discussing nonethelesss. The culture in Venezuela is much different than the one here in the U.S. Venezuelans view sports differently than we do here. To be sure, they are just as harsh on players and teams who perform badly on the court or field or baseball diamond as we are in the U.S. But you make a good point: They embrace Greivis and other prominent Venezuelan athletes for what they are -- sports stars. They seem better able to separate the athlete from the person, and so if someone's athletic career doesn't pan out, it's easier for them to move on to the next hot prospect. They don't hold it against athletes for not living up to their potential the way we sometimes do here. They might not hold Greivis in as high esteem if he does not make it in the NBA, but that is entirely different from turning their back on him.
Arlington, Va.: Oscar Torres says something in the story, that it's not easy to play for the NBA "because you are Latino and maybe you have 1000 people in front of you." That last part seems right on, but is it really hard to be Latino in the NBA? I'd argue that, for better or worse, being a minority doesn't much impinge on your ability to go pro these days. (Unless we're talking early childhood socioeconomic differences preventing you from getting on that track, which might be valid, but still, it's not like there's a flood of rich white kids jumping into the NBA)
Steve Yanda: By no means do I want to put words in Torres's mouth, but what I took from his comments was that it is more difficult for players born and raised in Latin American countries to make it to the NBA, not necessarily that it is more difficult for Latino players to make it to the league. The challenge is two-fold. They must initially prove themselves enough to get noticed so that they can position themselves to come to the U.S. And then they must prove themselves again once they get to America. There's significance in that extra step that even those born into troubled socioeconomic situations in the U.S. do not have to take.
Fans booing..: I had no issues with GV reacting the way he did to the "terp fans." If you are a fan, you wouldnt be yelling at a student athelete because he is not playing well. These are not professionals getting paid the big bucks. He especially is not a "decorated" all McDonald or even a highly recruited guy.. so give him a break. He, just like the rest of the guys on the squad, are trying to play a GAME, somtimes you play well and sometimes you don't. IMMATURITY is people forgetting that and boooing GV and teammates. Let's face it folks, it aint UNC or DUKE or Kansas here.. not that it matters.
Steve Yanda: Thanks for the comment.
CP, MD: Steve, really interesting article.
How does his team-mates here in U.S. take to him this year? Do they feel like GV can lead them this year and do you think the team this year will be good enough to compete with the Dukies and UNCs.
Steve Yanda: Many of Greivis's teammates have said they believe the team is much better off with Vasquez back for his senior season than it would have been had he decided to stay in the NBA draft.
North Carolina and Duke have considerable talent this season (shocking, I know), but each team also has its weaknesses. Duke has backcourt depth issues, and North Carolina will be relying on a much younger lineup. Can Maryland compete with UNC and Duke this year? Sure. Will the Terps finish ahead of either squad in the ACC standings? I won't go that far.
Other than pride ...: ... what are the benefits to Venezuelans if Greivis makes the NBA?
Steve Yanda: There are simple truths of which you are aware but never fully understand or appreciate until you have certain experiences. For me, the trip to Venezuela was one of those experiences, and what I learned was just how much impact a non-tangible trait such as hope can have. There is a lot of poverty and desolation in Caracas, and while an NBA career for Vasquez won't fix that, it will give sports fans in his native country hope that if one of their own can make it as far as the NBA -- and all the wealth and fame and prosperity that that entails -- then maybe they can believe that a bright future is possible for them and their children as well.
Steve Yanda: Thanks for writing in, everyone. Really enjoyed all of your questions. If you ever want to reach me, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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