- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

One of the Maryland basketball team’s angst-filled subplots will find some closure Saturday.

Another’s end date remains in doubt.

While Dino Gregory’s eight-game suspension because of a team rules violation is over, a greater concern than mere frontcourt depth has come into focus: Just what is behind Greivis Vasquez’s struggles?

“The whole problem is mental,” Vasquez said Friday. “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I’ve already proven myself for three years in the ACC. My problem is mental, so I have to get out of that because it’s hurting my team. That, in a way, is very selfish because we have to win basketball games.”

As Maryland rolled up a 5-3 start in the season’s first month, Vasquez remained mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. He’s shooting 32.3 percent - 10 percentage points worse than his average in his first three seasons - as the Terrapins prepare to face Eastern Kentucky (7-2) on Saturday at Comcast Center.

While much will be made of Gregory’s return - and its trickle-down influence on freshmen James Padgett and Jordan Williams, as well as the frontcourt rotation in general - no player will have a greater impact on the Terps’ ultimate fate this season than Vasquez.

The senior led Maryland in scoring, rebounding and assists last season, then passed on remaining in the NBA Draft in the final hours before the deadline to withdraw and infuse substantial hope into a program coming off a 21-14 season.

Yet his scoring has dipped to 12.8 points a game - fourth on the team - and Vasquez has hardly looked like the same player.

“I’m really angry at myself. I’ve worked too hard,” he said. “I’ve let so many things bother me, and that wasn’t me. We lost three games that we should have won. It was all because supposedly the best player and leader of the team didn’t do what he needs to be doing. I take responsibility.”

While sluggish play ultimately didn’t matter much against the Fairfields and New Hampshires on the schedule, it was apparent in Sunday’s loss to Villanova that Vasquez wasn’t the same presence he had been a year ago. He battled foul trouble in the first half, finished with 12 points and was hardly the assertive force the Terps had grown accustomed to.

There was an upward blip last week, a 23-point, eight-assist night at Indiana to secure a crucial road victory to hint at shrugging off a slow start. Then came the Villanova game.

“That’s what he can do,” coach Gary Williams said. “I think if he would just allow that to happen sometimes, it happens. Basketball is a funny game. I don’t think I ever coached a player who was our best scorer who didn’t lead his team in scoring. The ball seems to find those guys. I think with Greivis, it will happen. He just needs one game to break out.”

Perhaps it also will require a shift back to what worked. Vasquez said he believed his shot was better coming into the season, but the first eight games suggest the reverse is true.

Some of it might be comfort, and Vasquez acknowledged he has probably thought on the floor more than was necessary early this season.

“I haven’t felt like I’ve been myself,” he said. “I’ve tried to do so many right things. It’s not like I’m doing wrong things, but I have to be myself. If I’m crazy on the court, I need to be crazy.”

The unpredictable version of Vasquez was held to fewer than 10 points on five occasions the past two seasons. It already has occurred four times this year.

Williams, though, remains certain Vasquez will return to the sort of play that nearly led him to turn pro a year early.

“When he plays, he’s a national-level player in terms of his ability,” Williams said. “He knows it. We know it. It’s just a matter of getting back to that.”

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