By Jordan Gold
For an NBA journeyman, the decision to call it quits on a basketball career is often out of his control. That may be the case for Maryland basketball legend Greivis Vasquez, who has been out of the league and battling an ankle injury since the Brooklyn Nets released him in 2016.
Vasquez, 32, has not retired from the NBA and is still working on a comeback as a basketball player. In the meantime, though, the former point guard started his post-career life by working as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans’ Summer League team this month. Vasquez, who played in New Orleans from 2011-2013, was tasked with the role of helping develop one of the most exciting groups of rookies in the league.
“It’s an unbelievable experience for me. I haven’t been around basketball the last couple of years because I was trying to get healthy and still am trying to get healthy,” Vasquez told PressBox before the Pelicans’ Summer League season ended. “It doesn’t get any better than when you have the No. 1 pick on your team, you basically get all of the attention. I’m having a blast, I’m having a great time and I thank God for this opportunity.”
The No. 1 pick Vasquez is referring to is former Duke phenom Zion Williamson. Williamson scored 11 points and grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes of action during his Summer League debut against the New York Knicks July 5 before banging his left knee and consequently being shut down for the rest of the summer.
“[Zion is] a tremendous athlete and a tremendous person. He’s a great kid, willing to work, coachable, and I think with his future the sky’s the limit. I think he is going to add so much to our team and help us tremendously. Obviously, he has to continue to learn the game but his willingness and his professionalism is at a high level,” Vasquez said. “Watching him in practice, I can tell that he is going to make a huge impact on our team and that he is going to help us. To me, Zion will be a star in this league. It’s just a matter of time.”
Williamson is not the only talented rookie that is on the Pelicans’ roster. They also have Jaxson Hayes, a center out of Texas, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a combo guard out of Virginia Tech. Both talented prospects were acquired through the plethora of assets received via the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade orchestrated by new executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin and general manager Trajan Langdon.
“David has done a great job. David, Trajan, the whole front office has done a tremendous job. We have draft picks that are playing at a high level, we have players that are going to help our team now. These guys play extremely well, they handle the ball well, they have their bodies ready and have tremendous energy,” Vasquez said. “To me it’s all about having a good base. I think David with his leadership has built a great base on our team and we are going to have a winning culture, I truly believe it.”
For Vasquez, getting this opportunity with the Pelicans was not something he expected. He originally was planning to work as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs’ Summer League team, but the Pelicans made a more attractive offer and he took advantage of that. Vasquez said he’ll likely stay on with the Pelicans as an assistant for their G-League club, the Erie Bayhawks.
While Vasquez is coaching now, he is still rehabbing and not closing the door on his playing career. He said his ankle injury stems from weak bone structure that causes him pain when running and jumping. He is looking into various surgical procedures to fix the issue.
“[New Orleans is] going to help me with my rehab, continuing to progress with my rehab and let me be around the game,” Vasquez said. “I wouldn’t say my career is over because anything can happen, but I am committed to the job that I am doing right now.”
During his NBA career, Vasquez enjoyed his best years with the then-New Orleans Hornets. The point guard from Venezuela averaged 13.9 points and 9.0 assists per game during the 2012-13 season. He led the NBA in total assists (704) and was third in the league behind only Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul in assists per game.
Vasquez’s journey to stardom began at the University of Maryland from 2006-2010. He is second in program history in points (2,171) and assists (772). During his senior season with the Terps, Vasquez led the team an ACC regular-season co-championship. He won the Bob Cousy Award after the 2010 season, which recognizes the best point guard in all of college basketball. He was also named ACC Player of the Year and a second-team All-American that season.
“Eventually I do want to be around the school and do something with the basketball program. Not right now, I’ll say eventually. Maryland is my heart, the University of Maryland did so much for me and changed my life. I am always going to be grateful and whatever ways I can help the school I am more than down,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez is extremely high on the Terps heading into the 2019-20 season, and most analysts around college basketball agree with him. Many early top-25 polls have Maryland in the top 10 nationally, with some even having the Terps in the top five.
“It’s hard to predict anything but I’ll tell you this, they are going to work hard in practice and [head coach Mark Turgeon] is going to get the best out of his players. He and the team know the opportunity they have this upcoming season,” Vasquez said.
“I don’t see them doing anything less than going really far in the tournament and doing really well in the conference,” he added. “To me I have high expectations, but they have to work toward a championship and I know they will.”
Vasquez is very pleased with the job Turgeon has done with the program. Turgeon is entering his ninth season in College Park, Md., following the departure of legendary coach Gary Williams.
“It’s a great relationship, [Turgeon] is very kind. He always lets me participate, do some things and talk to the team. He’s great and I think he has done such a good job,” Vasquez said. “He is always trying to bring the former players back. I think that’s something he’s done well, letting the former players, even though they are not his players, be a part of the family still.”
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox