It was almost 4 a.m. on an August morning in 2004, but 11-year-old Patricio Garino was wide awake in bed. He was fixated on a television set broadcasting the Olympic men’s basketball semifinal, his view slightly obstructed by trembling hands held over his face.
But soon the tension dissipated, and tears of joy materialized. Argentina had just defeated the Americans, a basketball powerhouse made up of the NBA’s premier talent, 89‒81, and were headed to the final where they would go on to win gold.
At the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship this summer, Garino, now entering his final season at GW, helped the Argentinian national team qualify for the 2016 Olympics. He shared the court with Toronto Raptors power forward Luis Scola and Real Madrid forward Andres Nocioni, two members of that same world championship team he watched at his Mar del Plata home 11 years ago.
“It’s crazy. I never expected myself to be playing on the same team as my heroes,” Garino said. “They’re literally legends at home. To be playing with them, seeing how they behave off the court, joking around with them, being close with them – it’s unbelievable.”
In June, the 6-foot-6-inch swingman, who had already played for Argentina at the U15-U19 levels, was invited to try out for the 2015 national team set to compete in the Pan-American games in Toronto in July.
Out of the 31 players vying for a spot on the squad, GW’s leading scorer was selected to the 12-man roster for that tournament. He repeated the process, this time in a field of 35 players, for the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Mexico City, and again, made the cut.
“I wasn’t really expecting any of this. I didn’t have many high expectations to make the second team since it’s such a high-level tournament,” Garino said. “It was a big surprise but I took it as an opportunity for me to showcase my skills and, at the same time, learn. Competing against NBA players almost every game was a pretty big deal and it gave me a lot of confidence. I understand the game a lot better than I used to.”
Garino says since the 2004 gold medal win, the basketball culture in his home country has consistently grown stronger and the sport is now one of the most popular, just behind soccer.
So he knew Argentina would be watching when he took the floor on Aug. 31. His team was facing off against Puerto Rico in game one of the tournament that determined which nations get to compete on the world’s biggest stage in Rio next summer.
“That first day, hearing our national anthem in that big arena and knowing that so many people were behind us with so many expectations – it’s hard to describe,” Garino said. “So many things go through your head in the moment. You’re nervous because you feel the pressure. You’re excited, a little afraid. You get chills. You’re smiling. It’s just a lot of emotion.”
That game proved to be one of Garino’s best. He scored 19 points and went 6 for 7 from the field and 2 for 2 from beyond the arc. Across the 10 games of the tournament, the small forward averaged 7.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game to help earn Argentina an Olympic berth with a semifinal victory over Mexico, before dropping the final to Venezuela.
In addition to efficient shooting, head coach Mike Lonergan was also happy to see Garino’s turnover numbers, a problem spot during last season’s 22‒13 campaign, improve in Mexico. Out of the six Argentines who played 200 plus minutes, Garino had the fewest number of giveaways, recording only 10.
Lonergan said that this spring, before Garino left for international play, he worked tirelessly with assistant coaches, Maurice Joseph in particular, to hone in on his shot.
“I could tell when he left, that was the best I had ever seen him shooting. He didn’t get a lot of shots for that team, but I wasn’t surprised he shot a decent percentage and I was more happy with his turnovers,” Lonergan said. “Hopefully that will carry over to this season because the free throw shooting and our turnovers – those were probably the two most disappointing things with a veteran team, which we did have last year.”
Garino, as well as seniors Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen, will have an even greater leadership role in his fourth year with the program, and hopes he can use what he learned from eight-year NBA veteran Scola in Mexico to guide the Colonials to a successful season.
On the court, the 35-year-old helped Garino polish his post play, teaching him how handle screens and guard better. Garino says his biggest impact, though, was Scola’s guidance in the weight room and with his nutrition.
On the trap bar deadlift, Garino made the biggest jump of any Colonial from July to September, improving from 455 to 515 pounds in the two-month span.
“[Scola] didn’t know me that well at first, just my name, so it took him a little while to open up. He’s very obsessed with basketball and he’s a perfectionist, so if he doesn’t see that you’re committed or you don’t work hard, he doesn’t get close to you,” Garino said. “But since our first practices I think he saw my work ethic and we really bonded.”
“There came a point where almost every day we were talking together, cheering each other on,” Garino added. “And if I’d had a rough day, he’d guide me through everything and lift me up. I admire him so much for everything he’s done.”
The Buenos Aires native also got the senior and his teammates on the Paleo Diet over the summer. Garino is still on it, skipping dairy, grain and processed foods. He said it has been working wonders and that even his knees feel “10 years younger.”
His joints may feel that way but Garino, who was selected to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team and All-Conference Defensive team, is more than 10 years older now than he was during that Olympic cycle in 2004. When he tries out for the 2016 Argentina Olympic team next summer, his eyes will have to be wide open.