Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Jay Triano, the longtime head coach of the Canadian men’s national basketball team, was doling out defensive assignments in a team meeting in Nuequen, Argentina, as the team prepared for an Aug. 23, 2001, game against the host nation in the COPACA Tournament of the Americas.
Current University of New Mexico men’s basketball assistant Jerome Robinson, then a star wing at Bradley University, was considered one of Team Canada’s defensive stoppers.
In an hourlong conversation recently with the Journal for Episode 14 of the Talking Grammer Podcast, Robinson explained what happened that day when Triano told him he’d have to guard some Argentine player named Manu Ginobili, whom Robinson admits he didn’t yet know.
While Ginobili at that time was just known as a star in the Italian pro league, he later went on to a 16-year NBA career and won four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs before announcing his retirement this week.
Here is Robinson remembering the day he got the assignment against “the hardest person to defend in my entire life.”
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“He was an Italian (league) MVP or something like that,” recalled Robinson. “I remember coach (Jay) Triano saying, ‘Rome, you got Manu Ginobili.’ I didn’t know who he was. We were watching game film – he looks pretty good. … I didn’t know who the kid was. Not a kid, but I didn’t know who he was.”
Ginobili scored 25 points that game in an 85-76 victory over Team Canada, two days before beating Canada again, 97-76, in the semifinals. While Team Canada won bronze in that tournament, and earned a berth in the 2002 FIBA World Championships as a result, Argentina took gold, and Ginobili was beginning to cement himself among international basketball lore. Three years later, he led his Argentine national team to Olympic gold in Athens, Greece, including upsetting Team USA along the way.
“That was the hardest person to defend in my entire life,” Robinson said of the 2001 game. “It was unbelievable the things he was doing, and I thought I had defense. I was like, ‘Why isn’t this guy in the NBA? If this guy’s a European player, man, goodness.’ That summer, I believe, was when he went in and had a great, amazing career. …
“I couldn’t stay in front of him. No one on our team could, so I don’t feel too bad.”
Robinson has game film on a VHS tape from that game that he has watched occasionally through the years. He says may even share it with Lobo players this year.
So, while he didn’t know of Ginobili before that game, is Robinson a fan now?
“I was a fan after that game – that game on,” Robinson said. “When he went to the NBA, I didn’t feel so bad.”