One freshman is an outspoken point guard who inspires teammates with emotional play. The other is an unassuming playmaker who has a stabilizing effect on his veteran team.
Maryland's Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes have used contrasting styles to become two worthy members of what ESPN analyst Jay Bilas calls the strongest class of freshmen point guards he can remember.
"It is extraordinary how good some of these kids are," Bilas said. "I'd put both Hayes and Vasquez in there. They give [the Terrapins] two guys they can build on for a long time. And they have been accepted by older players on that team, which is [significant] in and of itself, and I think they've developed into the leaders of that team."
Today, Maryland's duo will encounter another celebrated back-court freshman in North Carolina's Ty Lawson, the Clinton native whose speed draws comparisons to current NBA players T.J Ford and Raymond Felton.
Neither Hayes nor Vasquez arrived in College Park with the hype of other ballhandling newcomers, but both have sparked a Maryland turnaround that has the team on track to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence. And both have memories of victories over Lawson.
Hayes faced Lawson in summer-league basketball; Vasquez's Montrose Christian beat Lawson's Oak Hill Academy, the nation's top-ranked team, last March. Both Hayes and Vasquez are eager for another matchup with the quicksilver guard.
"I'm trying to be different," Vasquez said. "I don't want to be like any other point guards on other teams. I'm not afraid of any of them. I'm going to compete."
Vasquez and Hayes have played particularly well during the current four-game winning streak by Maryland (21-7, 7-6 ACC). In his last five games, Hayes has 25 assists and four turnovers.
In last Sunday's victory at Clemson, Vasquez established career highs in assists (11) and steals (five).
In addition to statistical contributions, Vasquez and Hayes have helped restore a work ethic at Maryland following two seasons in which Coach Gary Williams could not guarantee the team's effort on a night-to-night basis.
Vasquez and Hayes have the same makeup as former Terps Juan Dixon and Steve Blake; they feel most comfortable in the gym refining their game. Since the fall, both have routinely pestered team managers to let them into Comcast Center at odd hours so they can shoot.
Vasquez was back at Comcast Center shooting Thursday morning even though his team had not left the arena until after midnight the night before, following the victory over Florida State.
"They love the game," Williams said. "They are junkies. They'll go to a high school game around here at night. They just like basketball -- that's important."
In terms of styles of play, though, they differ. Vasquez starts; Hayes is a sixth man, though Williams considers him an additional starter.
Hayes manages to steady the tempo, teammates said, and stop the Terrapins from rushing.
The 6-foot-3 Hayes, a native of Dumfries, Va., weighs a mere 175 pounds, but recently he has managed to rebound against stronger opponents, grabbing four in each of the past two games. The physical adjustment has been among his most challenging tasks.
"These guys are real strong and fast," Hayes said. "Coming out of high school, it's not like that at all. It's a big adjustment to compete with these guys."
D.J. Strawberry, one of the team's vocal leaders, called Hayes "probably the quietest guy I know. He speaks more with his play than his mouth. The more he learns about the game, he'll get more vocal and go out there and tell everyone. I think he'll learn from Greivis a lot because you can't shut Greivis up."
Vasquez's game thrives on energy and confidence. The Venezuela native will slap the floor to inspire teammates and pose before the crowd to arouse fans. His ability to create his own offense off the dribble and make perfectly placed passes on the move has been a prime reason why much of the fans' criticism of Maryland has quieted.
It is criticism that Vasquez internalizes and welcomes.
"I love when people criticize me because it makes me work even harder," Vasquez said. "It's something I appreciate. It's probably a good thing to motivate yourself to work harder, especially when you're at this level and you want to play something after your college career."
The fifth-ranked Tar Heels (24-4, 10-3) will be the deepest and most talented college team Vasquez and Hayes have faced. But the five Maryland seniors who are expected to play know youth won't be a hindrance.
"They are maturing in practice," senior Mike Jones said. "They are starting to understand when to score, when not to score, when to pass, when to push the ball up the floor. Those two guys are special for us."