UpNext: Homegrown Gonzaga star Kevin Pangos

In his third year with the Bulldogs, Pangos is posting career highs in every significant offensive category (Peter G. Aiken/Getty)

I can still remember the sound four years later: Fingertips lightly scratching against leather, a pause as the ball spun toward the exposed beams of the living room ceiling, and the whap of its return to his outstretched palm.

I had gone to Holland Landing, Ont.—in my capacity as a television producer—for a piece on a promising point guard named Kevin Pangos, then a standout at Newmarket’s Denison High School. I spent an hour with Pangos and his parents before the camera crew showed up and the entire time, while college ball played on the TV, Kevin laid on his back with a basketball repeating the same shooting stroke again and again.

Scratch. Pause. Whap. Scratch. Pause. Whap.

Gearing up for his senior season at Denison, Pangos had already been labeled the second-coming of another sweet-shooting, white, Canadian guard: Steve Nash. It was a comparison the teenager appreciated, but never really felt comfortable with.

He wasn’t Steve Nash 2.0; he was Kevin Pangos. So he set out to craft an identity of his own. And in the four years that have followed—as he earned a scholarship and starting spot at Gonzaga University and helped the Bulldogs to their first-ever No. 1 ranking in the AP polls—Pangos has grown into a perfect role model for homegrown and trained Canadian ballers.

Of course, Pangos did have an advantage not afforded to every young player: His father, Bill, is a former CIS player and a veteran coach, who currently patrols the sidelines for the York Lions women’s team where Kevin’s sister Kayla is in her final season. So, whenever Kevin wanted to shoot, he had a rebounder. Whenever he wanted to practice his ‘Nash floater’, he had a defender. And, most importantly, whenever he did something incorrectly, he had a trained eye there to make sure it didn’t become a bad habit.

Photo courtesy of the Pangos Family

While dribbling with winter gloves to shoot hoops in the snow was something Kevin did regularly, the Pangos family basement was also set up for poor weather workouts. The toy basketball net he started sinking shots on as soon he learned to stand was still at the ready during my visit.

Past the net was what looked like a former laundry room, a cement box that Kevin had turned into his own private dribbling dungeon. It was wide enough for him to practice his crossover and just long enough to throw passes. But firing the ball off the walls would slowly drive everyone in the house insane—especially Kayla, whose bedroom was nearby. The solution? An old mattress propped up on the wall, which functioned as both a noise-dampening system and an imaginary teammate while Kevin dropped dimes.

Photo courtesy of the Pangos Family

Pangos never fully utilized AAU basketball to gain exposure south of the border, and in its absence he relied on high school competition and playing for Team Ontario for his primary game action. He also knew that honing his handle in his basement was not going to be enough to get him ready for the NCAA, so—on top of working with basketball-specific trainers—he spent a few months training in Kung Fu in order to help his quickness. He also turned to yoga and benefitted from an early appreciation for fresh, organic foods and proper diet instilled in him by his mother, Patty (herself a former CIS player), who served raw veggies, homemade soup and whole grain bread on my visit.

Now in his junior season at Gonzaga, Pangos is playing more minutes than ever before, which has resulted in career highs in points (16.9), rebounds (3.7) and assists (4.2) per game. The attention to detail he demonstrated repeating that same shooting stroke incessantly on my visit has also contributed to outstanding shooting percentages from the field (47), behind the arc (46.9) and at the free throw line (92.4)—all career highs.

Pangos is a deft disher with either hand and a willing passer at the point, but he can also finish at the rim and continues to add to his repertoire with every game he plays.

In a text message after a game this past November in which he unveiled his new Canadian take on the Eurostep, he told me that he, “wanted to be known as more than just a shooter,” which is another example of his drive to improve every aspect of his game.

Outside-the-box training, practicing over playing, healthy eating, a lights-out shooter and a four-year commitment to his NCAA school—despite Pangos’s best efforts to differentiate himself, it all sounds very Nash-like doesn’t it?

Which takes me back to that day in Holland Landing when I first met his parents. While their son was out shovelling the driveway so we could film him getting some shots up, I asked Bill if he thought Kevin could make it to the NBA. In a hushed voice, almost as if he was worried his son could somehow hear him through the window, Bill said, “he can… because he is driven and no matter how far he makes it, that will never go away.”

For news and updates on future editions of UpNext follow @upnext_JayT. And don’t forget to show some love by following @KPangos.

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