UNION, N.J. — Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos will be returning to school for his junior season in 2013-2014, but that doesn’t change the fact that Thursday’s 2013 NBA Draft will be quite meaningful for native of Ontario.
Teammate and countryman Kelly Olynyk has a chance to be a lottery pick. Fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett could end up being the No. 1 overall pick. Another Gonzaga-product could end up being scooped up in the second round.
“It’s very special. We’re a tight-knit group,” Pangos told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University this week. “Everyone knows everyone. If you don’t know them, you’re rooting for them because they’re Canadian. “We’re a whole little family, so seeing guys get drafted and seeing guys that I’ve grown up with go to big schools, it’s really exciting that we’re not just going to be known for hockey.”
As exciting as it is for Pangos to see his friends have a chance to live out their childhood dreams of making the NBA, the bigger issue here is that two of those players — two guys that helped make up one of the best front lines in the country in Olynyk and Harris — and now former teammates.
And without those two in the fold, the way that the ‘Zags play next season is going to be quite different. You see, despite having one of the best young back courts in the country in Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. last season, the bulk of Gonzaga’s offense was run through their front court, which is why they’re combined scoring average dipped from 24.0 points as freshmen to 20.9 points as sophomores.
“I don’t know if we can replace what they bring,” Pangos said of his former front court. “We kind of have to change the style that we play, because everything was through them. They were so dominant.”
What that means is more responsibility for Pangos, who was one of the best freshmen in the country in 2011-2012. He’s always been a terrific jump shooter, and that didn’t change last season. Where Pangos is looking to improve is in his ability off the bounce. He doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a possession point guard that can’t do much more than knock down open threes.
“Creating my own shot. Being able to get into the paint. I’m not the quickest, most athletic guy, but I’m trying to use my skills and change-of-speed to get into the paint, to create for myself and others,” Pangos said. The Point Guard Skills Academy lasted for three days, but the media was only allowed to watch the final session on Wednesday, which was mostly just scrimmaging. But the previous two-and-a-half days featured primarily skill work and pointed coaching from coaches like John Lucas and workout specialists like Kevin Eastman.
That’s where Pangos truly benefitted, not only learning from the best but working out with — and against — some of the best college point guards in the country.
“I’ve never been invited to a camp like this before, so I’m just trying to take it all in,” Pangos said. “Coaches really push you to go full speed. I’ve learned that there’s a lot of great players. I’ve watched their game, seen what I can add to my game. Overall, just the speed of everything. It kind of just made me realize that there’s always something to improve on.”
One of the biggest knocks that Pangos has faced throughout his career is his work on the defensive end of the floor, but it’s worth noting that during the scrimmage portion, Pangos had a chance to go up against Kyrie Irving for a couple of minutes. In one stretch, he got three straight stops, twice turning Irving over and once forcing him to take a tough, left-handed floater. To be frank, Irving was playing at about 75% and wearing cargo short sweat pants, but that doesn’t change the fact that Pangos more than held his own against an NBA all-star.
At the very least, that’s a confidence-booster.
‘I was hacking him a little bit here and there, but I was just trying to play as tough as I could,” Pangos said. “He’s an NBA all-star! I was trying to do the best I could. At first it was a little nerve-wracking, like I can’t get beat, but it was fun.”
If it all goes to plan, Pangos will follow the likes of Olynyk and Harris and Bennett to the NBA Draft, which is part of the reason he didn’t spend an extra day in the tri-State area to attend Thursday’s draft.
“Hopefully next year or the year after I’ll be there for my own,” he said.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.