Blanchette: Pargo succeeds on difficult road
It’s not a sense of adventure that sends Jeremy Pargo on his basketball odysseys.
Some players have straight-line transit in fulfilling their NBA convictions, but for many the trip comes with a GPS that constantly chirps, “Recalculating.” That could mean a blitz of study halls or a far-off college, pinballing through Europe with Machiavellian club teams or toiling in the airport-motel D-League and scuffling through summer league auditions. Always it means resiliency.
“Not the easy way,” admitted Pargo, “but you do what has to be done.”
That’s Jeremy Pargo, NBA veteran.
Not entrenched veteran or rising star, yet. Those distinctions may require more recalculating.
But Pargo’s circumstance now seemed unlikely to be fulfilled during the low moments of his senior season at Gonzaga, and maybe as much of a long shot over the course of his first two years as a professional in Israel. So it’s worth a little celebrating, even if Pargo himself is disinclined.
This weekend, the former Zag favorite is part of the intriguing mix involved in the Jamal Crawford A Plus Classic, a benefit affair being staged at the Spokane Arena on Saturday night in conjunction with an even bigger ballapalooza you know as Hoopfest.
The best the Northwest has sent to the NBA have committed to Crawford’s shindig, among them Rodney Stuckey, Klay Thompson and Brandon Roy, plus a few from beyond the region.
Pargo is flying in from his home in Chicago for the game, and later it’s on to Las Vegas to play in the NBA summer league there. Because, well, there’s still work to do.
His rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies was laced with predictable highs and lows. Just two games into the season, Pargo had to step in for injured starting point guard Michael Conley and produced a remarkable performance – a 15-point, seven-assist effort against Oklahoma City while holding Russell Westbrook to 0-for-13 shooting. And if you measure NBA success on YouTube, there’s a nasty dunk over Washington’s Kevin Seraphin that’s done beaucoup traffic.
But often the minutes came grudgingly – he averaged a little more than 9 in the 44 games he played – and he was on the inactive list as the Grizzlies lost a hard-fought, first-round playoff series to the Clippers in seven games.
“It didn’t all go as well as I’d have liked, but all in all it was good,” he said. “I’m at the level I always wanted to be at and I look forward to getting better. And it was a good year for the team. We had a tough first-round exit, but one or two shots go our way and we win that series.”
Whatever clouds there are in his NBA future, Pargo’s path to this point is a window into his determination.
Undrafted and unsigned out of GU, he found a home overseas in Israel, first with Hapoel Gilboa Gilil Elyon, and then with Maccabi Tel Aviv – “the Lakers of European ball,” as Pargo puts it, and the Yankees of Israel’s Super League, given that they’ve won 50 championships.
But they didn’t win in 2010, Pargo leading his team to a 90-77 win over Maccabi in the title game. So it wasn’t any wonder that when the Tel Aviv team had an opening the next August, they signed Pargo – who went on earn second team All-Euroleague honors and take Maccabi to the final, where it lost to Panathinaikos.
“I was able to go overseas and fully regain all the confidence in myself,” Pargo said, “and fall in love with the game even more than I was before.”
That confidence was shaken during his final year at Gonzaga, notably in a couple of major meltdowns in losses to Connecticut and Memphis, and Pargo acknowledged that he “lost sight of what had made me successful.” The Maccabi experience was a revelation, then – especially after his first game against a Spanish team that saw his team trailing by 30.
“We got hit pretty hard (by the fans and media),” he said. “It was ‘We don’t have Euroleague guards’ and ‘We don’t have this,’ and there was speculating about them bringing in another point guard. But we pulled it together and it was an amazing experience. I had teammates that instilled confidence and trust, when guys are pushing you along, it makes you play that much harder.”
Finding that vibe in the NBA might be trickier, but Pargo won’t stop looking. His road to this point suggests as much.
“I take some pride in how I’ve done it,” he said. “It wasn’t easy going from Chicago to Spokane just to make that first and it definitely wasn’t easy going from Spokane to Israel. It’s not the direct route.
“I’m still not where I want to be, but not many have taken that long road. But I’ve always been one to do what it takes.”