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.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.