Hornets.com 1-on-1: Greivis Vasquez

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

On a New Orleans Hornets roster that includes numerous personable players, point guard Greivis Vasquez is one of the most friendly and engaging interviewees. As the team’s Spanish radio play-by-play broadcaster Emilio Peralta recently complimented, “Greivis loves to talk to the media. He’s always willing to spend time with everyone."

These days, the 25-year-old native of Venezuela has no shortage of things to discuss. The third-year pro is experiencing a stellar first half of this season, averaging career highs in virtually every major category. He ranks in the top three of the NBA’s assist leaders, while twice coming within a single rebound of registering a triple-double. In his first season as a full-time starter, Vasquez has more than doubled his scoring average, at 14.0 points per game, after entering 2012-13 with a career mark of 6.2. The recent Western Conference Player of the Week has also appeared in every Hornets game over the past two seasons, a streak that now stands at exactly 100 games.

Following a recent New Orleans practice, the gregarious Vasquez was profiled for a feature that will appear in the NBA’s HOOP magazine and chatted with Hornets.com to discuss his breakthrough performance in 2012-13:

Hornets.com: What do you think about all of the additional individual recognition you’ve been receiving this season?
Vasquez: I do appreciate people looking at my game and talking about my game, and the way I’ve been playing this season, but I expected this, because I know what I’m capable of. And I’ve worked so hard every summer. One thing about the NBA is you have to play with confidence. I’m grateful and thankful that I’m on this team and in this organization, to be given a chance to develop my game and show my game. Obviously Coach (Monty) Williams has a lot of confidence in me. That’s big-time. When you have a coach supporting you and behind you and letting you play, that right there is huge. I’m very thankful and I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity. This is what I love doing.

Hornets.com: What do you think when you see your name in the top five of the NBA’s assists leaders?
Vasquez: I don’t try to look at that at all. I hear it because people talk about it. That’s great. That shows that when you really put the work in, things are going to pay off. I’m all about working. I came to a team that’s a work team. I’m a work player. I’m probably not the most talented or the most athletic, but I’m going to get my work in.

Hornets.com: When you said before the season that your goal was to average 10 assists, it seemed pretty unrealistic, but you’re averaging about 9…
Vasquez: I’ve got to give my teammates credit. My teammates are hitting shots for me. Our record doesn’t really identify who we are. In the long run, this is really going to help us be the team we really want to be. Because now we’re adjusting to each other. I feel like now we’re starting to click and play Hornets basketball. Sometimes we have some slippage, but that’s part of being young. But I’m excited every day for this team and this city. That’s why I try to go out there and do my best.

Hornets.com: Statistically, you’ve improved your three-point percentage, even though many of your shots early in the season were under duress. How have you done that?
Vasquez: It’s something I worked on a lot this summer. I think my jump shot has gotten a lot better, even my (mid-range) jumper. I think during the second half of the season, that’s going to be even better for me. It’s something I’m going to have to do, because now (defenses) are going to try to stop drives or try to send me left because they know I’m a strong right-handed guy. Now I’ve got to really rely on those short shots, middle J’s that are really going to help my game look a lot better.

Hornets.com: If one does research on your basketball career, there are many articles that pop up about you being this kind of cocky, brash player at the University of Maryland. Having seen you around the team over the past two seasons, it seems like a completely different person. Do you feel like people misunderstood you or your personality when you were younger?
Vasquez: During my college days, I was a young kid trying to find an identity. I had just left my country at such a young age and was trying to make a name for myself. When you get to the NBA, you really have to humble yourself. And I was humble in college, too, but when you’re in the NBA, you’re a rookie, you don’t play much, you might be the 12th man of the team. You get inactives and DNPs. That makes you say, ‘Look, I have to start all over.’ Now I’m getting my confidence back, my swag back. I feel like I can play against anybody in the NBA and do a great job. I’m getting experience and getting used to the league. Me being cocky, that’s far from who I am. I’m confident to get the job done.

Hornets.com: How old were you when you came to the U.S.?
Vasquez: I was 17 years old when I left my family and left my mother. I came here Sept. 25, 2004. That’s actually my mom’s birthday. She was crushed when I left. (Maryland) Coach (Gary) Williams always said you have to sacrifice something to play this game and be in the NBA. I sacrificed (being around) my family. It was hard. It’s still hard now, because I don’t spend as much time with my family as I want to spend. That’s why every time I step on the court, I can’t waste time. I’ve got so much going on outside basketball, that when I’m here, I’ve got to get the job done.

Hornets.com: How much of the way you carried yourself when you were at Maryland was the adjustment of learning a new language and being in a brand-new place? It’s difficult to imagine being in that situation.
Vasquez: It was hard, man. It was extremely difficult. I remember when I first got to college, I couldn’t take regular classes, because my English wasn’t good enough. My grammar wasn’t good enough. I took one semester of English as a second language. I was crushed. I was destroyed inside. It was like, I can’t believe they’re making me do this. But it was a great experience, because it made me stronger. Every morning I was working at 6 o’clock with David Atkins, one of the assistants for the (women’s) team at Maryland. He was there every morning supporting me. Coach (Gary) Williams and Stu Vetter, one of my high school coaches, they really got me through the whole thing. It turned out pretty good for me – I had the best four years of my life at Maryland.

Hornets.com: Do you think you should be in early consideration for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award? Is that something you thought about going into the season?
Vasquez: That’s something that I can’t control. But I can control how hard I’m going to work and how I’m going to help my team. That’s the most important thing for me and how I can improve. That’s how I show my growth. How can I be a better leader? How can I be a better point guard? How can I help my team win? That’s what really matters to me. Whether I win (awards) or not, such as Western Conference Player of the Week, I’m not focused on that. If you don’t think about things like that, the (recognition) will come. As of right now, I’m really concerned about getting better as a player each and every day.