NEW YORK -- The conversation took place during his freshman year at
"He told me that he wanted to play in the
Now in his third NBA season and second with the
Just as he did at Maryland, when he doubled his scoring average between his freshman year and senior year, Vasquez has gone from being a sporadically used rookie in Memphis to a starter and team captain in New Orleans.
The 28th pick in the first round of the 2010 draft, Vasquez averaged 3.6 points and 2.2 assists in a little more than 12 minutes a game with the
"A lot of times in Memphis, I was the last guy off the bench," Vasquez said. "This organization has given me the opportunity to become the player I think I can be."
Statistically, he has made an even more impressive jump than he did at Maryland. Vasquez went into Saturday night averaging 13.9 points and 9.4 assists – third in the league in assists behind injured
Vasquez was named the Western Conference Player of the Week in late December — the first Hornet to be so honored since Paul in November 2010 — and has been mentioned prominently in a small group as a leading candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player this season.
The chip he carried from Caracas, Venezuela, to Montrose Christian in Rockville — where he played one season with future
"Even if I establish myself as a starting point guard, an elite point guard, whatever it is, I'm always going to play like nobody knows me, like I'm an underdog, that I have to prove a point," Vasquez said after a recent road game against the
In another rebuilding year with a franchise that was forced to trade superstar Paul to the Clippers before the lockout-delayed 2011-12 season, Vasquez has been one of the bright spots — and biggest surprises — for the Hornets.
Given the opportunity to start after former
"It's just a great opportunity for me to lead. It kind of reminds me of my college days to showcase my talent and my leadership," Vasquez said. "The NBA is a tough business. This is the year for me to establish myself, continue to get better and to keep playing in the NBA."
Vasquez doesn't pay attention to his improved statistics because they could serve only as a distraction.
"If you say you have to get 10 assists a night, you're not going to get them," he said. "I just go out there and play, man."
With the offense built around fifth-year guard
Vasquez doesn't shimmy his shoulders wildly after hitting 3-point shots as he did at
But the passion Vasquez developed growing up in Venezuela is still very much apparent to his teammates.
"The thing that sticks out about Greivis is that he's always competitive, no matter if it's a shoot-around or a tight fourth-quarter game," Hornets center
The genesis of the way Vasquez is playing this season goes back to the Western Conference playoffs his rookie year, when he hit some big shots against the
"It really helped me a lot," Vasquez said of his first taste in the playoffs. "It gives you a lot of confidence, and that's the way I'm playing right now, with a lot of confidence. The NBA is all about confidence. You can't be afraid. You can't be afraid of failure. You can't be afraid of turning the ball over. When I was in college, I thought it was the best level.
"It's a little bit different in the NBA. One night you play against Chris Paul, the next night against
Knowing what Paul did during his six seasons with the Hornets, Vasquez concedes that he feels a bit of pressure.
"It's pressure, but I can't really take it like that. I have to be myself," he said. "I can't be Chris Paul. I'm not really as fast. I haven't been in the league as many years as he has. I have to give all that I've got and trust my work ethic and do what I do. … Obviously I've got to guard the quicker point guards. That's the knock on me. I get it. Their advantage over me is that they're quicker, but I'm stronger and bigger."
And just as resilient, his once-fragile shell hardened like that of Maryland's mascot, Testudo.
"I know in his heart he wants to make me better," said Vasquez, who is only the third Venezuelan to play in the NBA. "He's never going to say how good I do, and that's good because I don't need to read that. I like the way he coaches me. That means he cares."
Monty Williams, who overcame a heart defect discovered at Notre Dame to play nearly a decade in the NBA, wants more from Vasquez.
"He understands that I'm going to get on him no matter what, so he might as well play through it and deal with hard coaching because the point guards get more hard coaching than anybody," Williams said before the Jan. 13 game in New York.
Asked whether Vasquez has exceeded his expectations, Williams said: "I don't think about that kind of stuff, to be honest. I try to push him so that he fulfills his potential. Our coaches do a great job of showing him his flaws and showing him things he does well. I'll look at all that stuff at the end of the season and try to evaluate then, but while you're in the process, you try not to think about it. He's done a good job, but there's certainly room for improvement."
Given his history, Vasquez will likely get that done.