Kevin Pangos (AP Photo)

Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, eyeing a Final Four, on last season: ‘It just wasn’t fun, I was in pain the whole time’

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UNION, N.J. — Gonzaga’s basketball team is held up as the bastion of mid-major hoops, proof positive that the limits created by conference affiliation, television revenue and a football program that neither Jim Delany nor Mike Slive give a damn about cannot keep a hoops team from playing high-major basketball.

And forget about calling the Zags a mid-major program. Gonzaga recruits nationally and internationally. They battle it out with programs from the traditional power conferences for top 50 and top 100 recruits. Josh Perkins, a top 75 point guard in the Class of 2014, picked the Zags over UCLA and Minnesota, among others. Kyle Wiltjer, a former McDonald’s all-american, transferred to Gonzaga from Kentucky.

Gonzaga is a high-major program, one of the top 25 basketball schools in the country.

They have been since Dan Monson, Matt Santangelo and company took them to within one possession of knocking off eventual national champs UConn in the Elite 8 back in 1999.

But the Zags haven’t made it back to the Elite 8 in 15 years. They’ve been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament just twice since 2001: In 2006, when an Adam Morrison-led team blew a 17-point lead to UCLA, and in 2009, when they beat a No. 13 and No. 12 seed to get through the weekend. Five times in the last 13 NCAA tournaments, the Zags have been upset by a lower-seeded team. Only once in that time frame — back in 2011, when they beat St. John’s as a No. 11 seed — have they pulled off a real upset.

Once known as giant-killers, the cinderella you always pick in your bracket, Gonzaga’s developed a new reputation: overrated and perennially overhyped. It came to a head back in the 2013 NCAA tournament, when Kelly Olynyk and company were given the No. 1 overall seed, a fairly-controversial decision, only to lose in the Round of 32 to Wichita State, who eventually made the Final Four.

And you better believe that Gonzaga players have picked up on that rep.

“I definitely notice,” Kevin Pangos told NBCSports.com at the Point Guard Skills Academy last week. “I don’t listen to what people say so much because sometimes we do play great teams and lose. Sometimes it’s a tough situation like that.”

Pangos would know as well as anyone.

He’s been the face of Gonzaga basketball for the better part of three years, ever since he exploded on the scene by scoring 33 points and hitting nine threes in a blowout win over Washington State during ESPN’s 24-hour college hoops marathon. It was his first nationally-televised game as a freshman, but it may have been the last time that Pangos was truly a major part of college basketball’s national conversation. As a sophomore, Pangos was overshadowed as the Zags rode front court work horses Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to the No. 1 overall seed. And this past season, Pangos was a shell of himself as he battled turf toe on one foot and a sprained ankle on the other.

“I was playing at 60%,” Pangos said. “It was so frustrating. I was just trying to help the team win and not make myself any worse. I was taped up and braced up, trying to stitch myself together.”

The issue, Pangos said, wasn’t just that those injuries cut down on his already limited explosiveness and lateral mobility. It killed his balance, making running off of screens and sprinting into open jumpers — his bread and butter — a painful endeavor.

“It just wasn’t fun,” he said. “I was in pain the whole time, because it was both feet. It wasn’t just one, both were hurt.”

The injuries were so bad that Pangos spent nearly three months after the season ended rehabbing, trying to get back to 100%. He would shoot, he said, but he wasn’t doing much running and didn’t even play live, 5-on-5 basketball until about a week before he left for the Point Guard Skills Academy.

“I’m better, but not quite 100%,” he said.

The health of their senior point guard will be key for the Zags next season, but Pangos won’t be forced to carry the entire load as the Zags will field a team that could find themselves in the top ten heading into the 2014-2015 season. Sam Dower graduates, as does David Stockton, but Mark Few has added more than enough pieces to reload. Four-star point guard Josh Perkins joins the program, as does Domantas Sabonis, a seven-foot Lithuanian that is the son of the great Arvydas Sabonis and would be a five-star recruit had he played his high school ball state-side. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer will be eligible to play, as will USC transfer Byron Wesley and Vanderbilt castoff Eric McClellan.

Throw in returnees Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Dranginis and Angel Nunez, and what you get is a team with plenty of size, shooting, lineup versatility and depth.

The only thing that they’ll be short on next season is expectations.

“I want to peak at the right time,” Pangos said. “We’ve had good seasons, but we haven’t had any great years. Even when we were ranked No. 1, we didn’t end the year strong. So I want to have an all-around, strong year from start to finish. We might lose a few games here or there. But no matter what, I want us to have a full year. I need to get somewhere I’ve never been before: the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.”

“But I want to make it as far as we can, to a Final Four,” he added. “To get that experience in my last year. I don’t want to say that if we don’t make it, it will be a failure, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I don’t want to miss out on.”

Rutgers land 7-foot grad transfer from UNC Wilmington

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Brandon Ingram #14 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket as he is defended by C.J. Gettys #23 of the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks in the second half of their game during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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Rutgers landed a commitment from seven-footer C.J. Gettys on Monday night.

Gettys is a graduate transfer from UNC-Wilmington, where he averaged 5.3 points, 5.1 boards and 1.4 blocks for a team that reached the NCAA tournament. Gettys is a slow-footed back-to-the-basket player, however, and that didn’t exactly fit with the way that UNCW head coach Kevin Keatts likes to play; think Shaka Smart’s VCU teams.

So Gettys opted for Rutgers, picking the Scarlet Knights over Dayton, Purdue and Chattanooga.

He is the fifth member of new head coach Steve Pikiell’s first recruiting class.

VIDEO: Seventh Woods dunks on UNC student

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Some poor UNC student decided that he was going to try and block Seventh Woods, a freshman point guard for the Tar Heels, on a dunk attempt.

What ended up happening was that he got windmilled on.

To quote Samuel L. Jackson, as portrayed the great philosopher Dave Chappelle, “You ain’t never seen my movies?” Woods was doing this as a freshman … in HIGH SCHOOL.

Former National Player of the Year Michael Brooks dies at 58

Brooks for All-American Brochure
Courtesy La Salle Athletics
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A Philadelphia basketball legend and a former National Player of the Year passed away on Monday night.

Michael Brooks, a 6-foot-7 forward who was named the NABC National Player of the Year in 1980, died in Switzerland on Monday night due to a massive stroke, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He was just 58 years old.

Brooks finished his career with 2,628 points and 1,372 rebounds. He never averaged less than 20 points in his four seasons in college. (Think about that for a second.) He was the No. 9 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and averaged double-figures for four years before season-ending knee injuries sent him to Europe to play. Brooks was also named the captain of the 1980 Olympic team that missed out on the Moscow games due to the USA’s boycott.

Brooks, according to the Inquirer, had aplastic anemia, which required him to receive a bone marrow transplant last week. His body rejected the marrow, which resulted in the strokes that ended his life.

UCLA cruises in opener on Australian tour

UCLA head coach Steve Alford, second from right, watches action against Cal Poly with his assistant coaches in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Baker)
AP Photo/Michael Baker
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UCLA, who will be the most interesting team in all of college basketball this season, played their first game of an Australian tour on Tuesday morning, and they won in pretty impressive fashion.

The Bruins had triple digits on the board early in the fourth quarter, eventually beating a club in Sydney by the score of 123-76. For comparison’s sake, Washington and potential No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz beat the same team 101-80 a couple of weeks ago, so the win and the margin of victory is somewhat impressive.

Also worth noting: None of UCLA’s freshmen started. Steve Alford rolled with Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton on the perimeter — Holiday and Hamilton combined for 27 points, 18 assists and 11 boards while Alford had 17 points on just 10 shots — with G.G. Golomon and Thomas Welsh up front.

But the noteworthy performances here were from the McDonald’s All-Americans that Steve Alford brought into the program. In his first game in the blue and gold, Lonzo Ball, a potential top ten pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, was just OK. He finished with nine points and four assists while shooting 3-for-9 from the floor. Leaf, however, was terrific, as he led the team with 21 points to go along with nine boards and three assists.

The first exhibition game is hardly a great way to predict how a season is going to play out, but given the pressure and expectations currently surrounding the program, everything the Bruins do this season is going to be scrutinized.

This isn’t a bad way to start.

East Tennessee State dismisses Shemar Johnson from team

East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes shouts from the bench in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) East Tennessee State has dismissed guard Shemar Johnson from its basketball team.

Buccaneers coach Steve Forbes said Monday that Johnson was no longer part of the team. Forbes said in a statement that “being a Buc is a special opportunity and at ETSU we provide our student-athletes with a tremendous experience. With that privilege comes accountability and Shemar failed to meet the expectations I have to be a player in our program.”

Forbes added that “I wish him the best now and in the future.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 guard from Columbus, Mississippi, was a redshirt freshman who hadn’t yet played a game for ETSU.