And Now, A Candid Chat With Kevin Pangos

pangos

Spend any amount of time browsing a 2011-2012 roster and it's immediately clear the Zags have a wealth of perimeter players at their disposal. In light of the especially crowded backcourt, last year's notable playing-time-dispersal-circus, and the departure of rising senior Demetri Goodson, it's anyone's guess who the predominant guards will be on next year's team.  

Kevin Pangos wants to take some of the guessing out of it.  

When we recently caught up with the Denison High graduate he was living the good life: fresh off the golf course, holding court over some steaks on the grill. He dished with us on the post-Meech Era, the sagacity (zagacity?) of Dan Dickau, and suburban shopping mall thievery.

Slipper Still Fits: You just finished playing in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland for the International Team. Coming up you're representing Canada in the U-19 World Championships at the end of June. How will this affect your timetable for arriving at Gonzaga?

Kevin Pangos: I've talked to the coaches and my academic advisers and basketball Canada, and it looks like we're going to try and get me up there right after the World Championships for summer school. I might have to take an online course to be able to do that. They're trying to be flexible,

and were not 100% sure, but it looks like I'll get to Spokane around July 12th.

SSF: What's something you take away from the high-level competition of these one-off tournaments and all-star games that's different from what you work on, on a day-to-day basis with your Denison Team?

KP: Probably the professional approach of it. Just everything from day to day, how you have to be competitive and work at trying to get minutes. Trying to make yourself better. Being around elite level players, you can learn from each other and push each other. At home I find that although my school team did have a great work ethic, because it was a bunch of my buddies I'd worked with from grade nine until our senior year, it's a lot on myself as an individual.

I have had to push myself as an individual because there's not always someone trying to push me all the time. And also, with the professional approach for the national team, we're doing game tape, we're studying the other team, we're putting in a game plan, we have systems. So again...it's more like the NCAA than high school.

SSF: Will you be representing Canada at the Nike Global Games in Portland this August?

KP: I don't think I'm allowed to do that, am I?

SSF: We should probably figure that one out.

KP: I don't think I'm allowed to do that because I'm going to school next year. My plans that I know of for the summer so far are the National Team stuff until July 11th, summer school until August 6th, and then I'm back home and I'm running a couple of camps for some local kids with my sister and my family for two weeks, and then I go to Gonzaga on the 25th for good. 

SSF: What is the single strongest facet of your game?

KP: Right now I would definitely say my basketball IQ, or my shooting probably because as you'll know, comparing myself to the elite athletes in the game, I'm not at the top. I still consider myself a decent athlete, which some people might not, but definitely my IQ and my shooting are my strengths right now.

SSF: The single weakest facet?

KP: I always want to do more and more on the court. When I get into these high-level games I can do the basic stuff, but to be able to break down the defense and get a better shot and make a play every possession, is what I want to work on. So, the thing I'm really working on now is just my overall one-on-one moves, and being able to beat my man as easy as possible off the dribble.

SSF: I'm fascinated by your Team Canada teammate, 7'6" C Sim Bhullar. You'll be taking on his Xavier Musketeers next year. What would you tell your teammates about facing this guy?

KP: I'd just say, watch out, he's tall.

SSF: Indubitably.

KP: Probably, "get him to run." That is his weakness right now and he knows it, getting up and down the court. But he has improved in that drastically over the last year. I don't know what I'd tell our team. I mean look at this guy, he's big. I'd say, "let's just try and work around him." I know I've talked to (Bhullar) about it. We've kept in touch and joked about playing each other. You ought to see this guy. Walking through the malls with him is a blast because people try to look at him and make it subtle, but they're so fascinated with him.

SSF: So if you wanted to quietly rob an Auntie Anne's pretzels, he'd be a good diversion?

KP: Exactly.

SSF: You've said previously that you like to pattern your game after (Canadian and ex-WCC player) Steve Nash, but that the comparisons sometimes get a little stifling. Instead of becoming "the next Steve Nash" what's unique about your game that'll make you "the first Kevin Pangos?"

KP: That's a good question. No one's really asked me that before. I would say that Steve Nash has different gifts than I do. He's a bit taller. He has long arms, big hands. I'd say (the distinguishing factor) is the way I play. Sometimes I might have to score more, sometimes I might have to pass more, whatever it is my team needs, I try and bring to the games.

Also, I might be a bit smaller than him. A guy I'm really focusing on right now is a guy like (Dallas Mavericks' guard) J.J. Barea. He was undrafted. People said he was too small, not athletic enough, and look at what he's doing in the playoffs right now, so that's a guy that I'm really following now and seeing what he does on the court and trying to incorporate it in my game.

SSF: Enlighten me about Canadian high school basketball. Denison recently got to the finals versus Anderson, but the finals of what? Obviously you don't have "state championships."

KP: That was the finals of the all-Ontario league. It's a 3A league. We go by the size of our schools, so 4A being the largest, which is around 1200 or 1300 in your school. 3A is the next, and then 2A and 1A are pretty small. So (my school, Denison High) is 3A, and we lost in the finals.

SSF: So that was your province championship?

KP: Yea.

SSF: Inevitably, someone in TV or print looking for a story line next season will write about how you came to Gonzaga because of our strong pedigree of Canadian players. Did having guys on the team from Canada actually matter to you at all?

KP: It was pretty much total coincidence. Along the process we talked to the Olynyks a little bit, but that was more for general college advice. Other than that it was a total fluke that there ended up being three Canadians at the school.

At the beginning of the process I actually thought, "Well, Gonzaga's recruiting me, what are the chances I'll actually go all the way out west?" But as it started getting more serious and I started talking to the staff and getting to know more about colleges, Gonzaga showed that it proved to be the best fit for me. In all honesty, (the Canadian presence) didn't really have a big impact at all. It was just the best fit for myself, personally.

SSF: How well does your family know the Olynyks?

KP: I didn't grow up with Kelly, or anything. I just know that our families know each other because he did live in Ontario for a bit, and his parents were involved in the university basketball, at which my dad is a coach as well. I actually didn't know Kelly that well, but our families did know each other. I know he's a really funny guy, he's really outgoing.

SSF: Do you plan on sleeping under a Canadian flag blanket in your dorm room like Kelly currently does?

KP: Is that what he does?

SSF: Ask Sam. The whole place is just littered with Maple Leaves and Harry Potter paraphernalia.

KP: I don't plan on it, but if it happens, I guess. I don't know. I haven't really thought about that in depth stuff for university next year, yet.

SSF: You've competed against Manny Arop several times in Canada. How close are you to Manny, and what did it mean to you to be able to play with him?

KP: We didn't really keep in touch throughout this past year, but that doesn't mean that we aren't close. I did build a relationship with him at the junior national training camp when I would practice with him and I was just a young guy just trying to get experience.

The cool thing about Manny was that in practice he was the most competitive, most intense guy. I kind of challenged myself to try and get on that level, so I actually competed (against) him in shooting games just off to the side, me and him. I tried to bring out that level of competitiveness on whichever team I was on to try and beat his team, because in drills his team was always winning. It ended up that we kind of got a little joke going about which team was going to win, so we started keeping score and bugging each other, so through all that we built a relationship.

On my visit to Gonzaga I was with him, and he took me around on tour, so I got to know him that way. And I was a little disappointed to hear that he transferred because I saw that competitive spark in him and I thought that if he wasn't getting the minutes he wanted that he could earn the minutes, because he was that hard of a worker. But whatever he feels is the best decision for him, I'll support him. I'll still follow his career and root for him along the way.

SSF: Tommy Lloyd played a big role in your recruitment. What specifically did Tommy say to you that helped convince you that Gonzaga was the right place for you?

KP: We built a really strong relationship with Tommy over the year or two, whatever it was. The thing we really liked about Tommy was, just, his passion. He is a younger coach, and he really just showed how seriously he wanted me to come to Gonzaga. He kept on letting me know that. He gave facts about what I could potentially bring to the team. And a lot of coaches did that, but Tommy did it...like he actually meant it, like really cared about my future and Gonzaga.

That was probably the thing that made the biggest impact with Tommy. I know he flew out here all the time. He's willing, not just to talk over the phone but come out and show himself face to face, so I think about that with Tommy.

SSF: Our site spent the earlier part of this month both investigating and breaking the rumors about rising-senior Demetri Goodson. What was your reaction when you found out those rumors were true and that he actually was leaving?

KP: The first thought? There were about a hundred different thoughts going through my head.

SSF: Ditto.

KP: A couple of them were, one, I was surprised, because I know there was a rumor a couple of days before and I thought, "you know, what are the chances of that really happening?" I didn't have a chance to meet Meech that much, but I was a little disappointed just because in practice I think it would have been helpful to have a senior guard that would push me and that would teach me what he's learned those past three years.

But at the same time obviously it opens up that spot, there's more minutes for the point guard position and a possible starting slot, Stockton's going to be there as well, so there's not going to be three point guards there in that spot, but I don't know. Is it a more positive or more negative thing? Practices would've been great with him. He's a great athlete. I still don't know or have a feel on that. It could be positive or negative, and it's hard to say which one.

SSF: Do you see yourself starting at point guard next year?

KP: I do. That's a goal that I'm setting. I don't know when, or at what point, but that's a goal that I would like to see. If I don't, it doesn't really mean anything because it's not always the starter that's going to play more minutes in a game, but I want to play as much as possible. I saw Stockton play earlier this year and I was actually pretty impressed. People sometimes are ripping apart his game, saying he's too small, and this and that, but I was actually really pleased with the way he played.

There's 40 minutes for two guys and maybe another coming in, so I think we can work together to just play the best, and whatever guy the coaches give more minutes to that's fine, and the starting position to, that's fine, and just do what's best for the team but I really would like to start. Who wouldn't? I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to.

SSF: You've mentioned previously that something you'd like to contribute to Gonzaga is leadership. That's a term that, at least in the nerdish circles of Gonzaga blogs, has largely been poisoned because many fans think it's vague and hackneyed. When you say you want to lead, what specifically do you mean by that?   

KP: For me, I feel that first of all being vocal - and I'm not the loudest guy off the court, I'll admit that. I'm pretty low key, pretty laid back, I'm not going to be the one making all the jokes - but on the court as a point guard you have to be vocal and make sure everyone knows what's going on, make sure everyone's on the same page. Just in general, you have to make sure everyone's happy, just making sure that we're a full team of 12 to 15 guys as a unit, and that if 14 guys are happy and one's not, that we're all trying to make that last guy happy so that everyone's satisfied and that we're all going toward the same goal.

That's what I've learned over the years, especially playing for the national team, where you're playing with guys that are all-stars on their high school team, and now they're playing for a national team and they may just get five minutes a game... just everyone being on the same page and being on the same page with coaches, no complaining at all. That's what I view as leadership. Other people might see it in a different way, but that's what I'm going to try and bring.

SSF: Are you in touch with any old Zags?

KP: I talked to (Blake) Stepp when I was there, and I had a scrimmage with the guys the first time I was there. Stepp was watching and I think Ira Brown was playing, Stockton was playing, Steve(n) Gray was playing, Marquise was playing. I did fairly well so I think Stepp was pretty impressed and was fairly excited about the possibility of me coming on campus and playing for the team.

And I talked with (Dan) Dickau a little bit, and I was just watching (Jeremy) Pargo's championship game (in which his Maccabi Electra team lost to Panathinaikos Athens in the European League Championship).

SSF: What did you talk to Dickau about?

KP: He was going to come to watch the Hoop Summit in Portland, but didn't get around to it. I was asking him about a one dribble pull up, going on the drive, it was just little things I was asking him...just little pointers because I know that out of all the past Gonzaga players that's what people are saying I remind them the most of, is Dan Dickau, because of my height and weight and everything like that.

SSF: Next year you'll be sharing backcourt duties with  heady company: the best high school player from Washington state (Gary Bell), the reigning WCC Tournament MVP (Marquise Carter) and John Stockton's progeny (David Stockton). And yet, people are talking you up as much as any of them. Does that mean anything to you?

KP: It sounds like we're going to have a good backcourt, hopefully. Other than that, it feels great knowing that there's other guys on the team that can play great minutes and are great players. It's more exciting than anything. That's all I can really say about that, I want to be as good as I can, but I feel like the goals I set for myself are going to be above anyone else's expectations of myself. That's the way I am always. Other than that, I'm excited to play against those guys in practice and be on the same team with them, hopefully we can make some noise in the NCAA.

SSF: Well, along with an Arena Football franchise that draws all sorts of odd, stentorian folks out of the woodwork, you guys are easily the biggest ticket in town. You have a really devoted fan base.

KP: I've visited the campus twice. I actually like the campus. I know it's not too big, it's cozy. My mom and I did the walk from the city on to campus, on that trail (the Centennial Trail) and all that, so that was kind of cool. So, I've been mentally preparing for this for months now. I'm trying to think through every scenario, even with basketball, when I'm playing, when I'm not, practices, what they're going to be like, training camp, just what to expect. 

I don't expect from day one that I'm going to be scoring 20 points a game. I'm trying to be realistic as well, but I'm hoping to do as well as possible. I know that I have goals and that the summer sessions are going to help as well. But I'm excited to go, I'm feeling ready. It's hard to know what to expect because I haven't been through it yet, right?

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