Portland v Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos ready to embrace a larger role next season

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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.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)