On Sunday night, at least for one more game, Maun Ginobili reminded the basketball world why they fell for the daring shot maker.
With a rousing performance in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, one infinitely more effective than any recent outings, the Spurs' two-time All-Star also showed the confident, artistic style that inspired a generation of Argentinean players. The impressionable group that watched Ginobili became an NBA and Olympic champion, including George Washington guard Patricio Garino, may have wanted to be like Mike but certainly wanted to be like Manu.
Following a lengthy stretch of largely ineffective play and coming one month shy of his 36th birthday, Ginobili made his first start of the season Sunday night and delivered one of his most impressive and timely efforts. The playmaking guard posted 24 points and 10 assists, leading San Antonio to a decisive 114-104 win over the Miami Heat.
Ginobili now takes his fading yet still potent talents to South Beach for Game 6 on Tuesday, with the Spurs one win away from the franchise's fifth title, the fourth with the veteran left-hander. That would add to his starry résumé, which includes leading Argentina to the 2004 Olympic Gold Medal along with fellow NBA players Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni.
Their collective success - with Ginobili leading the break, err, pack - is why Garino, who started all 30 games as freshman this past season for the Colonials, stands among those believing making the NBA is not an unreachable dream.
"Watching [Ginobili] play always helps a lot. He's my main role model in the NBA," said Garino, speaking to CSNwashington near the end of his freshman season with the Colonials. "They all helped me through my career. I watched all their games, tried to see what they do on defense, on 3-pointers, attacking the rim. Always trying to learn something from our players."
The idol worship is not purely from a distance and the admiration goes both ways.
With an interest in helping develop Argentina's young talent, Ginobili said he has interacted with Garino on multiple occasions including when the Colonials third-leading scorer visited San Antonio.
"He's a great kid, he has great potential," Ginobili told CSNwashington following the Spurs 118-92 win over the Washington Wizards on November 26 at the Verizon Center.
What stands out to Ginobili isn't simply the 6-foot-6 Garino's all-court game or his passing skills or even his heady defensive instincts. Unlike many promising prospects from South America, including Ginobili, Garino passed on the immediacy of the professional life for a shot the U.S. college game.
"It's not the easy road, the one he took," said Ginobili, whose professional career began at 18 as a member of the Argentine basketball league during the 1995-96 season. Eventually he transitioned to Europe before joining the Spurs in 2002.
"Usually players from Argentina prefer to start getting money because they can, overseas or somewhere else," Ginobili continued. "He took the hard route, came [to the States] to study and get better. I really admire that so I really hope he does good."
One of four freshman to start throughout the season for the Colonials, Garino averaged 8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and a team-best 2.3 steals. Like his hero, Garino's ability to remain a step ahead of his opponents leads to creating winning plays either as a passer or defender. Blessed with good size and active hands, the Mar del Plata native often took on the toughest perimeter defensive assignments.
"I always focus on defense first, offense comes after," said Garino, one of five starters returning for the Colonials next season.
Before matriculating to the Foggy Bottom campus, Garino's United States journey began with a starring role for Montverde (Fla.) Academy. His basketball experience includes playing internationally for his country's bronze medal winning team in the 2011 U-19 World Championships.
"I think he's a well-rounded player with a high basketball IQ," George Washington coach Mike Lonergan said of Garino during the 2012-13 campaign. "He's deceptively athletic. He's 6-foot-6, he's got a lot of natural abilities. He's been terrific. He's not an ordinary freshman."
Lonergan believes once Garino develops a primary scorer's mentality and improves his ball handling, the professional game in the NBA or Europe is certainly within his reach.
Ginobili has certainly showed the way.