CARACAS, Venezuela -- Greivis Vasquez is loved in Venezuela. The country's basketball bastion and lone representative in the NBA has become a celebrity spectator in the FIBA Americas Championship and doesn't miss any details of the evolution that the national team is living. He's showered by the masses with praise, and the signs of encouragement are constant before, during and after his team's games.
Vasquez shows up at the Poliedro, the host site of the tournament, with a feeling of helplessness that he transforms into support for his teammates. The surgery on his right ankle that he underwent at the end of May hindered his participation in the international tournament, something that "pains me a lot," as he told ESPNDeportes.com.
"It's the dream of any player to represent his country's national team. Not being out there pains me a lot, but I'm here supporting the team," Vasquez pointed out.
The point guard was one of the main figures during the inauguration ceremony held this past Friday. His name rang and the stands went crazy. He was presented the jersey that he should have been sporting and was visibly emotional when he received it. He grabbed the microphone and barely hesitated, showing his appreciation for the support shown by his fellow countrymen. He also opted to maintain a state of unity during certain occasions that were in favor of the Bolivarian government, which drew an equal amount of loud boos and applause.
"One thing only, we are all Venezuela. I know that these guys will take us to the World Championships which I will be in. We are all Venezuela. We should all be united," he said with the microphone in hand.
Vasquez isn't limping after the operation and he's on schedule for the start of the NBA season. Since the start of the rehab process on the ankle, the Venezuelan never doubted that he would be there for the first preseason game with his new team, the Sacramento Kings.
"I find myself to be much better," he said. "The progress has been really good and really productive but I need a month and half to get my physical condition at 100 percent again."
There's an unconditional motivation in his new adventure and Vasquez is conscious that he will be one of the key components to a renewed Kings team paddling in the direction of the playoffs, something the franchise hasn't done since the 2005-06 season. He arrives after a tough season in New Orleans but a satisfactory one on a personal note after averaging 13.9 points, 9 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 78 games. Overall, Vasquez had 704 assists which led the league. He was also third in the NBA in assists per game, right after Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
Vasquez doesn't have a starting role assured with Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette on board as the other point guards, but he'll be a part of a roster changed from top to bottom that counts on DeMarcus Cousins as its cornerstone.
KINGS' RENEWED PLAN
The Venezuelan is one of the new faces for a franchise that's totally changed its image. The sale of the Kings by the Maloof brothers to a group headed by Vivek Ranadive for about $534 million assures the presence of the team in Sacramento and closed speculations that the team was moving to another city.
The Kings have a new ownership group, a new president, a new general manager, a new arena and a new coaching staff headed by Mike Malone. The expectations will be high and the doubts are unavoidable. How will all of these new elements fit? Will the team come out benefiting?
"We expect to have a great and very productive year," Vasquez said.
"I hope to be able to help my team win a lot of games and get to the playoffs," he said, something Vasquez hasn't achieved since his time with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011.
"I like it a lot, it's a young team, a new coach, a new general manager, so good things are expected," Vasquez said. Vasquez radiates optimism. He feels that the Venezuelan national team will go to the 2014 World Championship in Spain. That the season with the Kings will be a success and that he will be 100 percent with the season coming up. For now, as he feels the sorrow of not having been able to participate in the FIBA Americas Championships, the player awaits his moment while working on perfecting his role as Venezuela's ambassador on and off the court.