The Washington Times - April 19, 2009, 01:13PM

Most of the time, when a guy averages 17.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists, he gets showered with all sorts of praise.

When he hits the 17-5-5 combo two straight years, people start wondering what the heck he’s doing in college basketball.


And that’s somewhat the case for Greivis Vasquez, who has had the letters N-B-A following him for a couple years now. But Vasquez remains best known for something that typically is just as consistent as his on-court performance —- his mouth.

For every triple-double, there was a night Vasquez would curse out his own fans. For every impossible shot made, there was another that aroused the ire of an entire fan base. For every frank assessment of a situation, there was an instance that left reporters scrambling to write a “did-he-just-say-that?” story.

It’s an intriguing dynamic, Vasquez’s substantial actions ignored in large part in favor of his words. Some of the onus rests of him. Some of it rests on folks who tend not to measure Vasquez’s overt tendency for hyperbole as much as they should.

But here’s something that is no exaggeration: Vasquez was a vastly, vastly better player as a junior than he was a sophomore.

And another: Maryland better hope he comes back for another season and push all of his chips into the NBA Draft.

Let’s start with a glance in the rear-view mirror. The prevailing wisdom about the first half of Vasquez’s career was his high-risk, high-reward play. Behind Door No. 1 was a writhing layup, with a free throw and a shimmy on the back end. Behind Door No. 2 was an off-balance shot off the rim to set up a transition opportunity for the other team.

That Vasquez didn’t show up very much. While he was not without some so-so days (like most players), he was only truly bad three times —- against Georgetown, Florida State and Duke, the latter at Cameron.

Maryland had no one play well against Georgetown, and really no one other than Landon Milbourne had a good game in that visit to Durham. Don’t try pinning those games on Vasquez, because just about everyone around him stunk on those particular nights as well.

He was erratic in Tallahassee, and even an average game from him might have swung that game. Of course, it might have been a Florida State rout if the Seminoles had adjusted to Maryland’s zone in the second half, but that’s a story for another day.

Weigh that against the countless games Vasquez either carried the Terps the entire night (North Carolina, at N.C. State, vs. Wake Forest, vs. California) or bailed them out in the end (Vermont). That list is a sampling, not a thorough examination.

All along, he cut his turnovers by a third. Some of that stemmed from not handling the ball as much as the year before. But dropping from 149 turnovers to 98 is substantial, and it’s clear he demonstrated something beyond a relatively pain-free ankle this season.

No, he demonstrated significant progress, the sort Maryland needed to leap from Yet Another NIT to the NCAA tournament. Of course, most people outside of regular Maryland fans will remember him best for saying Memphis wouldn’t finish .500 in the ACC.

Well, next year the Tigers might not. And if Vasquez departs, that’s a highly plausible fate for the Terps as well, especially since they went 7-9 (or 9-10, if you prefer) with him this past season.

Even as prognosticators remained pessimistic about this past season, Vasquez was always the trump card. Yes, the Terps had no size. Yes, Maryland might have to win ugly. But Vasquez always was going to give them a chance. Who knew when a 30-point game or a near-triple-double (or both) might pop up?

The same is true of next season, although Maryland could probably slog its way to the NIT without him. That’s not the plan, of course; coach Gary Williams said in February he felt he could have a top-25 team if everybody came back.

That’s a big caveat, especially since Vasquez could find himself much higher on a number of career lists than even some Maryland fans think if he returns. Assuming he simply replicates his junior season (which really isn’t that simple) here’s where Vasquez would land:

Points: 2,137 (third in Maryland history between Len Bias and Albert King)
Rebounds: 683 (tied for 18th with Joe Smith)
Assists: 740 (second between Steve Blake and Keith Gatlin)
Steals: 184 (seventh between Terrell Stokes and Walt Williams)
3-pointers made: 227 (second between Juan Dixon and Mike Jones)

He’d also leave among the top 10 free throw percentage shooters in school history.

Now let’s see … top-10 in points, assists, steals, 3-pointers made and top-20 in rebounds. How many players have done that in Maryland history?

Just one —- Johnny Rhodes, who is either the best or second-best (behind Adrian Branch) player in school history not to have jersey hanging from the rafters at Comcast Center.

If Vasquez returns, he’s in jersey honoring territory. If he comes back, Maryland has a chance not to play its annual NCAA tightrope game.

And if he comes back, he’ll receive ample opportunity to dazzle with his words and his deeds. Quite possibly in that order.

The former will no doubt draw haughty rebukes. The latter will generate praise.

That is, unless everyone’s too busy listening.

—- Patrick Stevens