In Mike Lonergan's world, players choose team captains. During 20-plus seasons as head coach including the last two and change at George Washington, only once did he step in with a selection.
The second time came Sunday. One day after the Colonials suffered their second straight loss. This isn't a tale about panic, but rather sophomore Patricio Garino's stellar play and leadership.
"Usually the players vote. [Forwards] Isaiah [Armwood] and John [Kopriva] are co-captains," Lonergan said during Monday's Atlantic 10 coach's conference call. "But I just felt that Patricio's being a leader. He's playing well and I want him to take ownership of this team. He's kind of taken over things so now he's going to be one of our tri-captains.
"I couldn't be happier with Patricio."
That's a powerful statement considering Lonergan wasn't thrilled with the Colonials (19-6, 7-4) overall performance in Saturday's 67-61 home loss to Massachusetts. GW next plays Tuesday at the Richmond Spiders (17-8, 7-3) with coverage on NBC Sports Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Limited by an injury during the first half of the season, Garino has played at an all-conference level of late on both ends of the court. Selected to the Atlantic 10's preseason all defensive team, the 6-foot-6 swingman seemingly lives in passing lanes and isn't afraid to challenge shooters at the rim. Garino had three steals against UMass and blocked two shots for the third time in four games.
Taking nothing for granted, but the Argentine's knack for thievery to the point it appears he has eight hands is expected. Meanwhile Garino's offense has gone to another level.
Thanks to crafty drives from the wing and acrobatic finishes at the basket, he scored a team-high 20 points against UMass. Over the last five games, Garino is averaging 18 points on 61 percent shooting from the field. On the season, the Manu Ginobili disciple averages 12.0 points while shooting a team-high 58.4 percent.
"He's been tremendous," Lonergan said of Garino, who averaged 8.8 points and 2.3 steals as a freshman while shooting less than 43 percent from the field. "[He's] shooting a high percentage. I always felt he would become our best player."
Though he started every game as a freshman, Garino spent the early portion of his sophomore campaign coming off the bench. The combination of a lingering knee injury and a broken finger forced him to sit out the first two games of the season and seven overall.
Fellow sophomore Kethan Savage stepped in and rocked out before a foot injury put him on the sideline. Savage's injury put Garino back in the starting lineup. Previous offseason work put others on notice.
"I thought [Patricio] was very good last year," Lonergan said. "His ball handling needed work, he had to get stronger. He really did that in the offseason, worked really hard. Unfortunately he tore his meniscus at the end of last year, had surgery so he missed part of the summer. Then this year breaking his finger set him back. But, now he's healthy and he's practicing every day. He's been tremendous."
The Colonials had a thin rotation even before Savage's injury. Key members of the remaining core struggled against UMass as GW shot 37 percent from the field while the Minuteman essentially made half of their attempts. "Even when we were healthier, we won with our energy and our defense and rebounding, "Lonergan said. "We've gotten away from that a little bit."
Staying sharp and disciplined will be crucial against Richmond, winners of three straight and executors of the Princeton Offense. Good thing GW's newest captain excels defensively. If Garino can lead by example, the Colonials should figure out how to get back on track.