Canadian Pangos aims to make name for himself in NCAA

The Canadian Press

11/19/2011 12:12:43 AM

VANCOUVER -- He's been called the next Steve Nash, but rising Canadian basketball star Kevin Pangos just wants to be his own player.

"I've heard (the comparisons to Nash) for a few years now, and I try to ignore them," said Pangos as his Gonzaga University Bulldogs practised Friday in preparation for Saturday's non-conference, neutral-site game at Rogers Arena against the University of Hawaii.

"It's definitely an honour, but at the same time, I want to make my own style of game and create a name for myself."

So far, Pangos is succeeding.

The 18-year-old point guard from Newmarket, Ont., has taken the NCAA by storm in his first two games with the Bulldogs. Heading into Saturday's game, the freshman is averaging 22 points per game.

He nailed nine three-pointers in only his second NCAA game Monday as Spokane-based Gonzaga downed regional rival Washington State. The performance tied a Gonzaga school record, giving him nine 11 treys in all following an earlier win over Eastern Washington.

"We've been begging him to shoot more this whole first month," said Bulldogs coach Mark Few. "Thankfully, he listened there the other night."

He is one of three Canadians in the Gonzaga program along with highly-touted senior seven-foot centre Robert Sacre of North Vancouver, B.C., and Kelly Olynyk, a Kamloops, B.C. native, who will red-shirt in what would have been his third season, after recovering from a concussion suffered in practice.

All three have also played in the Canadian national program.

But Pangos, who has become a starter while many other freshmen are forced to red-shirt in order to develop their skills and preserve their U.S. collegiate eligibility, is taking his early accomplishments in stride.

"I don't try to think of myself as a freshman," he said. "I try to think of myself as (being) as experienced as possible. I've done a lot of the national team stuff."

Now, it's a question of how much more experience Pangos will need before he might be able assume Nash's former role as the top point guard with the Canadian national team. Pangos became the youngest Canadian to suit up for two games with the senior men's team in Italy at the age of 16.

The physical education student has also played for junior Canadian squads and hopes to become a regular with the senior squad eventually, after opting not to play last season while taking summer courses and getting assimilated at Gonzaga.

Pangos looks forward to playing a prominent role with the rebuilding national squad under the yet-to-be-name successor to former coach Leo Rautins, who resigned after the team flopped in Olympic-qualifying play last summer.

He also dreams of playing in the NBA, but is determined not to get caught up in such discussion too early. First, he would like to make his mark with the nationally-ranked Bulldogs as they pursue an NCAA title.

Many Canadians reach the NCAA through highly-competitive U.S. prep schools and American Athletic Union tournaments. However, Pangos, whose father Bill is the longtime coach of Toronto-based York University's women's team opted to stay home. He joined Gonzaga after helping Denison Secondary School of Newmarket claim the Ontario AAA championship last season.

"I had all the resources I needed at home and my parents wanted me to be a kid for a couple more years," said Pangos.

Sacre predicts the freshmen will help make him and the whole team better. The former B.C. high school star is attempting to fine-tune his skills in his final year of collegiate eligibility. He is projected as an NBA first or second-round draft choice.

Sacre suggested his energetic personality is still the same, but he is a much better player than when he left to play in the NCAA.

"I wish I could compare myself to five years ago, one on one, just to see how I was," he said.

Sacre is pursuing a masters degree in sports management in his fifth year at Gonzaga after red-shirting as a freshman due to an ankle injury.

In order to join the ranks of currently-locked out NBA players, said Few, he has to savour the reasons for spending an extra year with the Bulldogs.

"He could have came out (and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft)," said Few. "Somebody out there who knows basketball is going to appreciate the things that Rob Sacre does. He just brings too many good things, whether it's an NBA team, a college team or a national team or anything."

Sacre opted not to play for the Canadian national team last summer, because he said he wanted to "just get myself better." But he said he wants to play again for Canada in the future.

Olynyk said Rautins' departure was difficult for him, because the former coach increased his international playing time. But he is also looking forward to playing for the Canadian squad again.

Although Olynyk said he is symptom-free, he is also willing to delay his entry to the NBA.

Few said he decided to red-shirt the seven-footer because the Bulldogs have plenty of height and he can take the time to work on himself, his body and his game against high-quality teammates in practice.

"I'm pretty good with it," said Olynyk. "It's for development. It's not because I can't play right now. It's because I'm going to be better in the future."

Notes: Nash congratulated Pangos for Monday's performance via Twitter. ... Pangos and hockey icon Wayne Gretzky share the same Jan. 26 birthday. ... Saturday's game will be played on the same court the Vancouver Grizzlies used in their six NBA seasons before being sold and relocated to Memphis. ... Former Toronto Raptors and Canadian national team coach Jay Triano took in Friday's practice. He declined to comment on Gonzaga's Canadian players, citing his role with the NBA. Triano is now a special assistant to Raptors president and general manager Brian Colangelo.