Just before his Under Armour team was about to tip off against St. Frances in an exhibition Monday afternoon, Greivis Vasquez went over to two of the game officials to voice a complaint.
"Hey, these guys are wearing Nikes," the former Maryland basketball star teased, pointing to the referees' footwear. "What the [heck]?"
With the NBA in its fifth month of a lockout, Vasquez has become something of a shoe salesman.
In fact, promoting Under Armour's basketball apparel line was the main reason the second-year member of the Memphis Grizzlies was at St. Frances on Monday, along with Charlotte Bobcats rookie Kemba Walker and third-year Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings.
But as much fun as Vasquez seemed to have, tossing no look passes and hamming it up with fans after he knocked down a long jumper, it's clear he'd rather be out on an NBA court.
"It's hard, man," Vasquez said when asked about the lockout before the game. "This is something to just get our mind off of what's going on. We're just trying to play. We want a fair deal, and we want to be out there playing."
The exhibition, which was free to the public, was the latest instance of NBA players taking their highlights to much smaller venues as they wait to find out about their professional future. In August, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were among a group of stars who played an exhibition at Morgan State.
On Monday, Vasquez's Team Armour — which rounded out its five by picking up Patterson star Aquille Carr and St. Frances freshman Kurk Lee, son of the former Towson star by the same name — beat the Panthers' varsity squad, 88-85.
While the Under Armour players largely aimed to put on a show, St. Frances used the game as a way to test itself before the season. The Panthers fell behind 17-6 in the first of four eight-minute quarters but came back to briefly take the lead in the third.
"You try to win every basketball game," first-year St. Frances coach Nick Myles said. "I don't care if you're playing against pros or Joes or whatever. Anytime you get out there on the basketball court, you've got to want to compete and want to win."
With eight seconds left, the Panthers pulled within two, when senior point guard Daquan Cook — a transfer from Digital Harbor— hit three free throws despite Walker chirping in his ear from behind.
Cook took the ribbing in stride and said it was a moment he'll remember as he prepares to play next year at UNLV.
"It's fun," Cook said. "They played hard, we played hard. It's a good experience for us. It's the perfect way to get ready for the season."
The Panthers are expected to compete for the Baltimore Catholic League and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles after finishing runner-up to John Carroll in both last year. They're still less than a week removed from the announcement that coach Mark Karcher was stepping down and being replaced by Myles, the school's athletic director.
"Practice has been a little bit tough, because it's a new coach and he's got to make sure he's got good chemistry with his players," Cook said. "But it's been going good."
Meanwhile, Vasquez, Walker and Jennings will continue Under Armour's "Are You From Here?" tour when they're joined by Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Derrick Williams for similar exhibitions Wednesday and Friday at high schools in New York. But those are the only games on the schedule for the pros, who are still waiting to see if they'll have a season.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Vasquez said. "I could play back home [in Venezuela], but I want to play in the NBA. You want to play in the best league."
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