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Greivis Vasquez brings charity, leadership and talent to Nets

Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez drives against Boston

Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez drives against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart during the second half of a game at Barclays Center on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

It was family day after Saturday’s practice session at the Nets’ training facility in Brooklyn, and Greivis Vasquez delighted in seeing 6-year-old daughter Braily and 4-year-old son Greivis Antoine romp on the court. Although Vasquez is coming off right ankle surgery in December and approaching his seventh NBA season with his sixth team, life is good right now.

Despite the physical problems he’s working to overcome, the joy Vasquez brings to the task and his charisma in the Nets’ locker room are valuable assets for a franchise undergoing a complete rebuild. Vasquez signed just a one-year deal with the Nets, but he’s hoping to play well enough to live his dream another two or three seasons in Brooklyn.

“It changed my life tremendously,” Vasquez said of the opportunities the sport has afforded him. “I always dreamed about being where I’m at, but some kids don’t understand how hard it is to be here, especially when you’re not a McDonald’s All-American or you’re not the most talented kid in the area. I’m a good example of doing the right thing when nobody is watching, work ethic, family and taking care of school.”

That not only is the example Vasquez intends to set for his own children, it’s the standard for Fundacion Greivis Vasquez, a charitable foundation he started in February to help develop youth basketball in Venezuela. He already has funded the refurbishment of a few public basketball courts, provided school supplies and held a clinic for 300 youth coaches.

The centerpiece of his work was a basketball camp called “Los 24” that he held last summer in Caracas for the top 24 youth players in his country, including 18 boys and six girls. Of those, four received scholarships to attend private high schools in the United States, including Carlos Lemus at Upper Room Christian School in Dix Hills, and Vasquez is awaiting approval for a fifth scholarship. His purpose is to give more Venezuelan kids the same opportunity he received.

“I know what it’s like going through tough times,” Vasquez said. “My family gave me everything I needed, and it wasn’t all money. My family gave me support, they taught me the right values, to be kind, to be patient, to be honest. I came to the United States when I was 17 years old without speaking any English at all. My goal was to reach the NBA, but more so to get my education.

“I came from a humble neighborhood in Caracas where it was hard at times — drugs, killing, stealing, all that stuff around me real close. But it wasn’t an excuse for me. I had the desire to get better and do the right thing when nobody’s watching. I had the opportunity to come here.”

Vasquez attended Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Maryland, where he teamed with future NBA star Kevin Durant before moving on to play four years at Maryland. Even when he was a student, Vasquez networked with coaches and was able to help seven or eight younger players come to the United States.

It was after he suffered a career-threatening ankle injury that required surgery last December in Milwaukee that Vasquez came up with the idea for his foundation. “I thought, what if I do it more professionally? What if I do it with the right purpose? What if I really help and connect people?” Vasquez said.

“I’m happy. We’re changing lives, but more so, it’s changing our life. I can’t even tell you how happy these kids that we gave scholarships are. The kids are going to high school in the U.S. It’s about $80,000 in scholarships. So we’re raising money. Obviously, we need people to support a good cause.”

Vasquez also is hoping to build two NBA-style practice facilities in Venezuela, and the platform he has with the Nets allows him to make more fundraising contacts. “I brought two investors to the [Nets’] practice facility,” Vasquez said. “This is the kind of place where I can develop kids. Back home, our kids basically don’t have anything. I’m trying to do my part through basketball.”

When the Nets signed Vasquez, they knew they were getting not only an experienced leader but a highly motivated player. “We’re trying to bring in guys that can help our young guys, help our culture, set an example and help the head coach, too,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I think he’s going to be big for us.”

Vasquez is encouraged by the progress he’s made in rehab after playing in all four preseason games, and he believes he can make an impact when he regains his playing rhythm. “I’ve got so much in the tank,” he said. “This is not just locker-room talk. I came here to play. I’m going to show you by doing it on the floor. This is the place God wanted me to be, and I’m embracing it. It’s a great opportunity.”

The Greivis Vasquez File

Guard, No. 21

Born: Jan. 16, 1987, in Caracas, Venezuela (age 29)

Height: 6′ 6″ Weight: 217

College: Maryland

Drafted: 2010 by Grizzlies, 28th overall

Teams

2010-11 Grizzlies

2011-13 New Orleans Hornets

2013-14 Kings, Raptors

2014-15 Raptors

2015-16 Bucks (20 minutes per game, 5.7 ppg, 4.0 apg.

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