- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Greivis Vasquez made arguably the biggest decision of his life in mid-June, opting to remain at Maryland for a final season after a month jetting from one NBA city to another.

The consequences of his choice soon became apparent, a byproduct of both an increasingly seasoned outlook and the desperation of fans to see the Terrapins climb back into college basketball’s elite.

Vasquez, the polarizing and unpredictable dynamo who left patrons dazzled one minute and distraught the next, disappeared virtually overnight. In his place was a man representing what might be Maryland’s most promising season in at least five years, which begins when it hosts Charleston Southern on Friday.

And Vasquez, never shy earlier in his career to talk of his professional aspirations, feels more at home than ever.

“Seeing how the fans and people just want to interact with me and talk to me, that means more than anything else,” Vasquez said this week. “I don’t think going to the NBA would get me that. It probably would get me some good money, but the love and how people are treating me right now, it’s really unique.”

So, too, is this place in Vasquez’s career. No longer is he the freshman point guard only a few years removed from living in his native Venezuela. The occasional anger - at one point last season directed at Maryland’s students - dissipated.

It’s a calmer Vasquez - a truly relaxed Vasquez, free of his usual frenetic pace, probably doesn’t exist - who returned to school. Mostly, there are plenty of stated high aims but no bold predictions as Maryland returns all but two players from a 21-14 team.

“I think the maturity, the way I view things now, is just different,” he said.

Greivis grows up

Countless thoughts crossed Vasquez’s mind as he walked out of the Georgia Dome locker room for the final time in March. He believed he was part of a special team, one just eliminated from the ACC tournament but not quite done extracting the most from the season. Or so he hoped.

He strode through a doorway on his way to the bus and spotted a worker dressed in the ubiquitous yellow jacket seen in stadiums everywhere.

“What size shoe do you wear?” Vasquez asked.

“Eleven,” came the reply.

“These are 13s,” Vasquez said, handing over his footwear.

There was no way to know for sure whether he would need the shoes again. Vasquez already had made it public that he intended to gauge the NBA’s interest in him, and though he didn’t file the papers until more than a month later, it was neither a surprise nor a mistake.

He attended workouts without jeopardizing his eligibility and hopscotched across the country in May and early June. But when it was time for a decision, a player known for his impulsiveness took a rational route - and in the process lent hope that the Terps could entrench themselves in the top 25 this season.

“I was very grateful,” coach Gary Williams said. “If he would have been a freshman, he probably would have gone. It just shows how important college can be to somebody in the maturing process. It was a great decision. Last year was a guards draft. All those guys are gone. He could easily be one of the best guards in the country this year.”

Yet there was a twist to the endless process. The unknowns are nearly all gone, the curiosity mostly sated. There are few surprises awaiting Vasquez at the end of this season and no life-changing decision to make in the spring.

Sure, scouts will be watching. But for five months, Vasquez is free to invest himself in Maryland - perhaps more than ever.

“I went through the whole NBA process because I wanted them to know what kind of player I am and what kind of person I am from talking to the GMs,” Vasquez said. “It shows a lot when I decided to come back for another year. I think people think I’m cocky. No, I’m actually a cool guy you’d like to talk to. I don’t feel like I’m better than anybody else. I just feel confidence because of my work ethic.”

Vision for now - and later

Vasquez never feared the 7 a.m. workout. He intends to hoist 30,000 shots before conference play starts and hoped to have 10,000 done by Friday night. As of Wednesday, he was at 8,000.

His relentlessness made Vasquez who he is, which for now is a leading contender for the ACC’s player of the year award. But he’s also imbued with a greater onus this season, one that invariably will be remembered for how he fares and how far he can take the Terps.

“It’s definitely my team,” Vasquez said. “That’s something I wanted since I was a freshman. I wanted my team. Now is the time for me. I used to take responsibility for everything. Now I’m really responsible for anything that happens.”

It’ll mean opening up opportunities for Adrian Bowie, Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley and Cliff Tucker in the backcourt. It includes coaxing more out of freshmen James Padgett and Jordan Williams, a pair of much-needed forwards who must contribute immediately. And it involves maximizing the figurative mind meld he and Williams share.

If it works out, Maryland finally could escape its near-permanent bubble residence and reach its first Sweet 16 in seven years - despite starting the season just outside the top 25.

“I think we could make something special this year that we haven’t had in the past,” Vasquez said. “We haven’t done anything like that. We won seven games straight in the ACC my freshman year, and we went to the tournament last year. I want something special. It’s easy to say, but it’s really hard to get it.”

At his best, Vasquez could create such magic on his own. His triple-double carried Maryland to a stunning defeat of North Carolina last year. But while he wasn’t as prone to turnover-filled adventures as previous seasons, there was still a wide gap between Vasquez’s elite games and his off nights.

“The big thing with Greivis is the realization you have to be more consistent,” Williams said. “You don’t have to play at the Carolina level, but you can’t play at a really low level either. You’ve got to be [in the middle] more of the time. What we need to be good this year is for Greivis Vasquez to be Greivis Vasquez.”

That still entails a lot. Vasquez’s vision for his future ties at Maryland is stronger than it was even a year ago. He hopes eventually to help build a basketball-only weight room at Comcast Center and plans to be a summer fixture in College Park for pickup games and workouts long after he graduates.

“I’ll be one of those guys who will come back to Maryland and be thankful about everything they’ve done for me,” Vasquez said. “I’m trying to build something at Maryland that the guys that have left didn’t build. Programs like Texas, all the NBA players come back and work out with the college players. I want to build that. … It’s going to be hard to take Maryland out of my heart. I’m always going to be back.”

There’s little reason to doubt him. As Vasquez found out, he already returned when he was needed most.