Thank Andrew Wiggins.
Every time Patricio Garino smothers some poor sap like an old woolen blanket, give an assist to the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year. Every time Garino intrepidly crashes the paint, every time he sticks George Washington’s Colonials on his broad shoulders and carries them to another plateau, it sort of all goes back to Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ star and measuring stick.
Or rather, the mileage Garino got this past summer at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship with the Argentina men’s national basketball squad, trying like holy heck to guard the Canadian skywalker.
“I think moreso than anything, what it gave me was confidence,” recalled the 6-foot-6 swing man, whose Colonials (6-1) play host to Seton Hall (5-1) Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ASN.
“Facing NBA players on a daily basis for almost two weeks, that gave me a lot of confidence. So I knew I was coming back to college (ball), and just to have the opportunity to guard Andrew Wiggins, I realized that, I think, that was going to be the (best) competition that I’d have for the year.”
Mexico City rocked and the Argentines rolled, securing an Olympic berth. Garino averaged eight points per game during the tournament and spent much of the rest of the time pinching himself, sharing a locker room with two of his hoops heroes, countrymen Andres Nocioni — he wears No. 13 with the Colonials in Nocioni’s honor — and Luis Scola.
“Not everybody gets a chance to play with their idols that they see playing during their childhood,” said Garino, GW’s leading scorer this season (16.3 points per game) and the last (12.4). “I’m very thankful for the opportunity, the moment that I put on the same jersey as (Nocioni) … even though he’s 36 years old, he plays like he’s 19, still. He’s the hardest worker that I’ve ever seen.
“The one that really took me under his wing was Scola … (he) took me under his wing the very first day and gave me advice in the weight room; off the court, he changed my diet completely. He gave me instructions on what to do with life, my future. I think I owe a lot of success this year so far to Luis Scola.”
And to one moment in particular, against Puerto Rico. During the third quarter, Garino scrapped his way to a steal near midcourt, fed to teammate Facundo Campazzo, then trailed on the break. Campazzo returned the feed to Garino, who rose up over 6-foot-11 center Jorge Diaz for a one-handed slam.
“Scola and Nocioni, players who were my idols since I was 13 years old, they came running over to me,” recalled the Colonials standout, who collected 19 points and three steals in a 91-86 Argentina victory. “That was probably the favorite moment (of the last year). The second moment (was) qualifying for the Olympics in Rio. That tournament itself is something that’s kind of going to be in my memory forever.”
If the past month is any indication, though, it’ll soon have company. With Garino helping to drive the train, the Colonials slayed one of the biggest dragons in school history on Nov. 16, knocking off then-No. 6 Virginia, 73-68. It was the program’s first home victory over a ranked foe since 1998 and the first over the Cavaliers since 1974.
“To be honest, we weren’t surprised at all,” recalled Garino, who posted 18 points while draining seven of eight from the floor. “We had a chance to play Virginia last year, and it was a very competitive game up until almost eight minutes (left) in the game that we actually let down. So we knew that we had a pretty good chance to beat them this year … I think we’re really confident and that we have experience back that we lacked a couple years.”
Experience and wheels. In late June, Garino and his mates were turned on to a diet that kissed carbs good-bye: No pasta, no cheese, no dairy. The Argentine said his body-fat percentage in late June checked in at 17%; it’s closer to 6 or 7% now, adding a layer of extra lean to the mean.
“I feel more athletic, actually,” the 210-pound Garino noted. “I feel like I’m jumping higher than I was before and I’m feeling faster, too. I have (the) energy to keep going for a long time.”
It shows, especially where the legs — legs that can fade down the stretch — are concerned. Through his first seven contests, Garino is shooting .592 from the floor and a nuclear .706 from beyond the arc, (12 for 17) while averaging 6.0 field-goal makes, 1.7 three-point makes and 1.1 blocks per game, putting him on a pace for personal highs in all five categories. And giving the Colonials a rock to cling to when the waters get choppy.
“This is the most unselfish team that we’ve had at GW in a long time,” Garino said. “I don’t know how to describe it without sounding cocky: I think we’re very confident in our level of play.”
To say nothing of their ceiling. And like Garino’s moxie and the Colonials’ resume, that bad boy’s rising by the week.