COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Just by looking up at the rafters inside Comcast Center, right above the scoreboard, you can see the banners with the names and jersey numbers of some of the greatest players ever to come though Maryland’s basketball program.
Elmore. Bias. Francis. Dixon. Baxter. Blake.
Not only do those names serve to honor those players themselves, but they serve as a reminder to Maryland fans, coaches and players of the all the program’s successes throughout its history. So when Greivis Vasquez first learned that his name would be added to that list, he knew how special it was.
"[I was] speechless", he said. "[It] feels like winning a Grammy or an Oscar."
The appreciation of the program’s success was never lost on Vasquez, who would stay up late practicing at Comcast Center and often look up at those names, striving to become another Maryland great.
"Early morning, late at night, I used to look up and see all those guys," Vasquez said, on the day where he saw his own name join that list of Maryland greats. "And now I’m one of them."
On Sunday, the charismatic Venezuelan point guard made his return to the Comcast Center, a place he still likes to call his house, to have his jersey honored by having it raised to the rafters, an achievement only 16 other Terrapin players have received. And from the moment he stepped foot back onto the Maryland court, now wearing a leather jacket and jeans instead of a Terrapin uniform, he was treated to a hero’s welcome. As he entered, he was immediately given a standing ovation by the Terrapin faithful. He made sure to greet nearly everyone on the court. He embraced his family that accompanied him, greeted his former teammates and assistant coaches and even showed love to some alumni. By the end of the ceremony, the crowd was chanting his name.
And while Sunday was a day where he received a tremendous amount of adulation, Vasquez knows that the journey towards being one of the most beloved players in the school’s history was not always an easy one. During his early years, fans would criticize him for playing too selfishly or acting too brash on the court for his own good. Vasquez was aware of the criticisms, but knew he had to simply be himself.
"It [was] just being me. I have the personality, the emotions, loving the game so much, it was just me playing," he said. "It was my culture, where I was coming from. I was never trying to disrespect nobody. No fans, or anybody else. I was just trying to play the game the way I grew up playing."
Vasquez kept playing with that passion, but with a little bit of maturing, he was eventually able to win over the Maryland fanbase. Vasquez became a leader in his final two seasons with Maryland, and paired with his vivacious personality, he began to separate himself among the rest of the players that had come through College Park. Not only was he playing better when it came to his individual numbers, but he was able to play smarter and more selfless as his career went on. What used to be brash and cocky was now considered bold and exciting. Stunts like the "shimmy" dance went from looking like he was showing up the other team to now providing showmanship for his home crowd. Vasquez knows he went through an image makeover with his own fans, and is still appreciative that the tide turned in the latter half of his career.
"I know sometimes they hated me," he said, grinning. "But [the fans eventually] loved me."
But if you’re going to talk about Vasquez’ career at Maryland, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the special bond he shared with his coach, Gary Williams. During their time together, Williams’ and Vasquez’ passion for the game would shine brightly, as their outward display of emotion every night on the court seemed to typify their bond. By the end of his career, it was quite clear that Vasquez was like an extension of his fiery coach on the floor. During the ceremony, Vasquez and Williams shared an embrace that seemed to signal the type of relationship they still share to this day. When asked about the embrace, Vasquez shrugged and shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts about his biggest supporter at Maryland.
"I still remember every big win we [had], every tough loss we [had], we went through a lot," Vasquez said. "He [Williams] has a special place in my heart. Not only as a coach, but as a person, as a mentor, as a father, [and] somebody who always supported me no matter what. "
Vasquez’ return to Comcast Center brought back a flood of memories for nearly everyone in the building, and while Maryland fans will hope the next great player in school history isn’t too far down the road, they know there will never be another one like Greivis.
As for Vasquez himself, he believes the memories of his four years at Maryland will last a lifetime. And with his newest honor, he’ll have something to show for it.
"Now that my jersey is up there, I can come to any game, come with my kids eventually and have my kids looking at that," he said."I needed this. It's always good to come back to a place where people truly love you."