Surging Vasquez Finds Fit With Raptors

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After a loss, it’s crucial to focus on what needs improving.

Two days later, after plenty of time to review film and discuss adjustments, it’s okay to also look at the things that did go well.

In a tough 94-87 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors received a huge game from sophomore Jonas Valanciunas. With 17 points and 18 rebounds in his playoff debut, he was incredible facing off against Kevin Garnett. He wasn’t the only Toronto Raptor to come up big under pressure, though. Point guard Greivis Vasquez came off the bench to score 18 points and dish eight assists in 29 minutes of action.

“Being afraid is not in Greivis’ vocabulary,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said at the podium after the game. “When he speaks Venezuelan he doesn’t know the word ‘afraid.’ He’s going to put the pedal to the metal and that’s what we need in those situations. I thought he played an excellent ball game.”

Coming to the Raptors from the Sacramento Kings in the December trade that changed the course of Toronto’s season, Vasquez serves as the back up to Kyle Lowry. He was previously a starter. It can be difficult to accept that demotion, but more than anything else, Vasquez wants to be part of a winning team.

“I feel like I have to prove myself,” Vasquez said. “I’m not Kevin Durant. I’m not Kobe Bryant. I’m not one of those guys. My spot in this league could easily be taken away. That’s why every day I step on the court, I step on the court like I haven’t done anything. I know eventually it’ll get me where I want to be. I just have to have the same mentality. I can’t change that. I have to be myself.”

Keeping that mentality means never shying away from the big moment when he is given the opportunity to be on the floor.

“I’m not the most athletic or fastest guy on the court,” Vasquez said. “I can’t show any fear at all. I’ve got to go out there and show that I can compete and do my job, by myself. I love this team. I really identify myself with this team and the way we do things. I just have to leave everything I’ve got on the court and help my team win. Come off the bench, foul somebody, score, pass, whatever. Rest Kyle, whatever it is. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win and coach Casey knows that.”

In addition to the camaraderie he has found in Toronto’s locker room, the 27 year-old has developed a strong bond with Casey. This has helped him adjust into his new role with the Raptors.

Vasquez: “I really want to stay here”

gv_300“The biggest thing with us is that we communicate great,” Vasquez said. “He knows what he’s going to get from me and I know my role. He knows I sacrifice for the team because sometimes I do want to do more, but Kyle Lowry is outstanding. As a man, I’m a team player. It would be selfish on my part to think I should be doing more when he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s great. I’m just happy to be on this team and hopefully this summer something great happens. I really want to stay here.”

Part of Vasquez’s love for Toronto stems from the support he has seen from the fan base. Saturday’s game was a big moment — Vasquez had previously played in 13 postseason games, but none like this. The passion from the crowd hit him squarely in the chest

“This is what I’ve dreamed about ever since I was back home in Venezuela,” Vasquez said. “I was at the layup line, during the national anthem and I was really, I was almost crying because it was really emotional. I am emotional as a person, so it was an unbelievable atmosphere.”

From Venezuela to Maryland, Memphis to New Orleans and, finally, Sacramento to Toronto, Vasquez has been waiting to find the situation that feels right. The love he has received from Raptors fans isn’t taken lightly.

“That right there… really just reminded me of my roots, where I came from, everything I went through to get to that point,” Vasquez said. “God is amazing, how he works and did things for me. T. [Terrence] Ross thought I was crying for a second. It was a cool moment. It was really nice.

“As a kid I would always dream about what happened last game. Even though we lost, the fans, the whole city, that feeling of being so involved and connecting, to me that’s the greatest feeling ever.

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