The typical NBA player from abroad prefers to live on the perimeter, running off screens and knocking down threes. Emanuel Ginobili of Argentina has bolder ideas. Sure, he can take and make the trey a la Peja Stojakovic, but in a new foreign twist he'll fake that shot and slash inside for a two-handed dunk over any and all challengers. The 6'6" Manu (as his friends call him) shoots like a European and jumps like an American. Not only is he a leading candidate to become the NBA's Rookie of the Year this season, but last week he also established his team as a serious threat to the U.S. at the World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis.
The best player in Europe for the last two seasons, Ginobili in July signed a two-year, $2.9 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs, who drafted him with the second-to-last pick in 1999. While veteran Steve Smith was the Spurs' starter at shooting guard last season, the lefty Ginobili, 25, could quickly form a global backcourt alongside 20-year-old point guard Tony Parker of France. "I'm going to throw Manu into the fire," says coach Gregg Popovich. "He's the kind of guy who wants the ball in pressure situations, and if he doesn't get it, he looks over at the coach like, Don't you know I'm here?"
To the grateful few paying attention-fewer than 400 people watched Argentina's 100-81 demolition of Russia last Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse—Ginobili showed touch and tenacity that will readily translate to the NBA. He scored 21 points in 23 minutes against the Russians, serially victimizing 7'1" center Alexei Savrasenko, an NBA prospect. No sooner had Ginobili looped a layup under the outstretched arms of Savrasenko than he was swishing a baseline eight-footer over him, arcing it as if it were a trick shot from behind the backboard. "He gives me a stomachache," says Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, whose team is in the same division as the Spurs. "He's got an edge to him, a real presence."
Ginobili was named Euroleague MVP while leading Kinder to the European championship in 2001; last season he averaged 15.6 points and 2.5 steals in 28.3 minutes per game. "He has also become one of the best defenders in Europe," says Popovich. Ginobili's rise comes at a dangerous time for the U.S. team, which has been undefeated in international competition since it began using NBA players. In wins over Germany and China last week the Americans' transition defense was poor, and no challenger is better on the fast break than the Argentines, who went 3-0 in the first round while shooting 55.8% and averaging 106.3 points in 40-minute games. ( Argentina and the U.S. were scheduled to meet on Sept. 2 in the second round, with a possible rematch in the knockout round.)
These championships, as well as a shot at an NBA career, are the realization of a lifelong dream for Ginobili, who was born into a basketball family in Bah�a Blanca, the nation's hoops capital. Manu's father was an amateur player, and his two older brothers were pros. "I was playing well in Europe, and now I see I can do all my things here in this tournament," said Ginobili. "So I think my game is suitable for the NBA."
He'll find out soon. Rest assured there will be more than 400 people watching.
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