Gregory Echenique Wants to Leave a Mark
Not too long ago, Duke’s Mason Plumlee looked like a lock for ACC Player of the Year. Fellow forward Ryan Kelly went out with an injury, opposing defenses concentrated on him more and Plumlee had some bad games. And he became an afterthought.
But make no mistake, Plumlee is still as good as he was back then, and still capable of being dominant. He knows his career is a bad game from him away from being over. He doesn’t want that to happen, and he showed some of that desperation against Albany.
Tonight, though, he’ll be facing off against a Creighton senior big man in Gregory Echenique who is similarly desperate. Even though he had one more year, he was inconsolable after being subbed out in last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to UNC with 1:13 to go.
Echenique, an Honorable Mention All-MVC selection this year, is a 6-foot-9 and 260-pound human wall of cement, banging against opponents down low over and over again until they submit to his will. Despite weighing 260, he has just 7% body fat and has dropped 40 pounds since he got to Creighton. He is thick rather than flabby, a delicate balance many big men can’t quite maintain.
Speaking to him, though, he doesn’t seem like a mindless bruiser at all. The Venezuela native still has traces of an accent, but he’s been in the states since he decided he was going to play basketball and his English is great. And he has mastered the art of describing what it is he does.
“I’m blessed that I’m built for that (physicality) and I weigh a little more than some, so that definitely helps me out,” Echenique said. “At the end of the day, I just hope that they’re more tired than I am and that usually ends up working for me.
“I like a little mental games too but no, I just try to just be smart, just use my body and try to let them know that I’m always there, not to get comfortable. I don’t want them to really get comfortable, so that’s what I try to do.”
Mental games, but not trash talk. The mental games are much more complicated than that, even in the post where it seems like almost anything goes. Echenique said he has gotten very good at the art of playing really rough, then relaxing for a bit, then going hard again. He doesn’t want to reveal a pattern, and it can frustrate opponents trying to get used to him.
Of course, there are consequences to that physical lifestyle. On Saturday, he had a few stitches on the side of his head and some on his eyelid as well. The eyelid was busted during the Cincinnati game by an errant elbow, and the head was from a teammate’s elbow. Echenique has seen his share of elbows, and he knows that’s part of the job.
So that’s just life as Greg Echenique, he was asked?
He grinned. “I guess so,” he said, shrugging. “Apparently, that’s what it’s turned out to be.”
“Echenique” almost sounds like a fragrance, and lord knows most of his opponents will likely smell like Echenique for days after they face him. Even though some manage to make marks on him, they’ll remember that they faced him. And as long as it’s the case, Echenique is happy.
“Yeah, I would take pride in that,” he said. “I hope I can do that again tomorrow. I like playing against bigger guys too, because it’s easier to find their bodies and easier to know where they’re at compared to when you play undersized people. It’s just very exciting for me.”
Plumlee has struggled some with more physical, bruising opponents this year, like Clemson’s Devin Booker. And Plumlee has had his share of bruises this year – most commonly for him are scratches along his arms, some of which are still visible now. Teams will try to do whatever they can to stop him and don’t mind fouling him, as he hasn’t been especially consistent in the free-throw shooting department.
And he knows that there’s no possible way he can bang down low with Echenique for 40 minutes anyway, so he’s going to have to change some things up. “He’s a big, strong guy and we’ll have to get him on the move, keep movement,” Plumlee said. “You can’t just bang with a guy that’s – I don’t know how much he weighs, but you have to do different things.”
Echenique has gone up against elite big men before, and he certainly frustrated UNC’s Tyler Zeller a year ago. He was as physical as anyone was with Zeller throughout his career, and he only got whistled for two fouls. He hopes that the referees let he and Plumlee decide the game rather than calling it tightly, and he’s relishing the chance to bang with one of the nation’s best.
“I’m looking forward to it. I like stuff like that,” Echenqiue said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be careful because of the referees, so you’ve got to see how they’re dictating the game. Hopefully, they’ll let us play a little bit.
“Obviously I know that he’s a good player and they’re going to look for him. He’ll score some. I’ve just got to make sure that they’re not easy buckets, that he doesn’t get going and get his confidence up.”