Get an inside look at Greivis Vásquez’ basketball roots, passion for the game and goals for the upcoming season.
“Fear” isn’t a word in Greivis Vásquez’ vocabulary.
“I’m not afraid of anybody – I’m not afraid of Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook – because I went through a lot when I was young,” says Vásquez. “If I didn’t fear that, why would I fear them? I actually believe I can compete against the best.”
Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, the Kings guard often sprinted through alleys littered with hoodlums and pickpockets to find the best competition at local playgrounds.
“I played outdoors,” he reflects. “It was motivation just to go out there and play in rough areas.
“I still remember when I used to play back in Venezuela when I was younger. That’s why I never forget my roots, because that really helped me to be where I am right now.”
After trying his hand at baseball as a child, Vásquez quickly grew bored with the slow pace of the sport, instead developing a passion for basketball from the moment he watched the local professional team – Cocodrilos de Caracas – take the court.
“When I was 11, my dad started to take me to pro basketball games back home, and (I thought), ‘This is for me – I want to be a basketball player,’” he says. “When I was into baseball, I was in centerfield in the little leagues, and nobody was hitting over there. I was like, ‘No, this is so boring!’”
Once he convinced his father to allow him to join a local team, Vásquez – who admired the slick passing of 10-time All-Star Jason Kidd – began to independently refine his skill set.
“Since I was young, I developed myself,” he says. “It was like a hobby and then later on it became something I love.”
The 6-foot-6 guard rapidly emerged into a highly-touted international prospect, catching the eye of numerous collegiate coaches at an NBA Camp in South America. In 2004, Vásquez moved to the U.S. to continue his education and pursue a basketball career at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md.
The electrifying floor general helped lead the Mustangs to a 43-5 record over his final two seasons – averaging 15.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game as a senior – earning a full scholarship to the University of Maryland.
Despite facing the stiffest competition of his young career, Vásquez yet again shined on the national stage, averaging 19.6 points, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game as a senior en route to capturing the Bob Cousy Award, as well as ACC Player of the Year and Consensus All America Second Team honors.
“I wasn’t afraid in college,” he says matter-of-factly. “(Compared to) seeing (what I saw) at home, it’s nothing playing at Duke.”
While suiting up for the Terrapins, the Venezuela native became renowned for playing with fiery intensity and unbridled emotion that fueled his teammates – a passion he aims to recapture in Sacramento.
“I think I’m going to have to bring that back – I think I’m going to really be myself here,” says Vásquez, who was selected 28th overall in the 2010 Draft by Memphis and spent the past two seasons with New Orleans.
“(On my previous teams), I wasn’t me 100 percent – showing my emotions, the way I play the game … that’s why I’m looking forward to playing here and looking forward to being here for a long time because I’m going to show that passion – how much I love the game, how much I love winning.”
The 26-year-old’s work ethic, combined with his unyielding self-confidence, has led him on the path to NBA stardom, as he’s emerged into one of the game’s elite point guards.
In his first season as a full-time starter in 2012-13, Vásquez set career-highs in nearly ever statistical category, including points (13.9 per game), assists (9.0 – third in the NBA) and rebounds (4.3) en route to finishing second in Most Improved Player of the Year voting.
“I do thank (Pelicans Head) Coach (Monty) Williams for giving me a chance to showcase my game, but most of the time when you get an opportunity like that, you have to be ready,” he says. “I was ready, I took advantage and my teammates at the time helped me out, too. It was just good for me to understand that I can play in this league and I can play against the best.”
The outstanding playmaker ranked first in the League in total assists (704), second in assist percentage (44.9) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.85) last season. On Feb. 8, Vásquez notched his first career triple-double with an eye-opening 21-point, 12-assist, 11-rebound performance.
“(This) year is going to be a great year for me to show the whole League again that it wasn’t a fluke what I did this past season – that I can become better and better,” he says. “But it takes time and it takes work.”
Kings General Manager Pete D’Alessandro, Head Coach Michael Malone and Sacramento’s scouting staff have long admired the guard’s ability to utilize his size and physicality to frustrate opposing guards and stellar court vision to find open teammates.
“His skill set is his passing, but I think even beyond that, (when) we’re talking about changing the face of the team and helping Coach bring his style of play to it, we like guys on our team who players don’t want to play against,” says D’Alessandro. “Greivis is the type of player who plays with such intensity that he’s a guy who I would say other teams don’t like facing – and I know that because I’ve been on other teams.”
“I’ve always been a big fan of Greivis,” affirms Malone, recalling the guard’s tenacity while watching him play on the Venezuelan National Team.
“No matter who he plays with, he’s going to make those guys better, and that’s the sign of a great player – a guy who can make all of his teammates better (and) put them in positions to succeed,” adds the head coach. “Greivis will do that for us and I think, as he sets the tone, that kind of basketball is contagious. When the ball starts moving around, now, no one cares who gets the credit – you pass up good shots to get great shots and Greivis will set the tone for us from Day 1.”
Vásquez – who notched the second-most games with 10 or more assists in the League last season (30) – is ready to embrace a greater leadership role in Sacramento.
“A leader is a guy who does the right things when no one is watching,” he says. “Now, I’m on a team (on which) they want me to be a leader, and that’s who I am – I’m a natural leader. I can lead by example, by talking to somebody (and) by making everybody else around me better.”
After getting a taste of postseason competition as a rookie with the Grizzlies – notching 11 points in a pivotal Game 6 victory over the Spurs in the opening round of the 2011 Playoffs – the fourth-year guard says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the Kings return to postseason contention.
“We want to change things around, we want to be in the Playoffs, we want to be in a different culture – in a winning culture,” he says. “We have to learn how to win, and you learn how to win by going into practice, working your butt off and understanding that you have to do what you do – just play within your role. I didn’t come over here to score 40 points and (dish) 38 assists. I came over here to be a leader and help my team win.”
True to his word, Vásquez isn’t afraid of the challenge.
– Prior to returning for his senior year at Maryland, Vásquez participated in a pre-Draft workout with the Kings in June 2009.
“I remember my first NBA workout when I was a junior in college – I came (to Sacramento) the first time,” he recalls. “It was my first one and my best one during the whole process.”
– Vásquez reveals he’s been overwhelmed by the outpour of fan support from purple and black faithful who’ve reached out to welcome him to the River City via Twitter.com/greivisvasquez.
“I heard great things about our fans,” he says. “Since I got traded (here), our fans (have been) so happy – the reception has been unbelievable.”