Sports

Blanchette: Pargo the most stand-up Zag

Jeremy Pargo commandeers the remote in the Gonzaga training room and suddenly he is just like the rest of us watching the madness of March unfold – which is to say, the announcers can drive him a little crazy.

Florida State has just outlasted Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament in Atlanta, and ESPN’s Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes are all over Tech freshman Iman Shumpert, whose floater to tie from just inside the foul line caromed off at the buzzer. Pargo is the third man in the booth, if the breadth of a continent can be called a booth.

Nessler: “The freshman maybe took too much precious time.”

Pargo: “No, he didn’t! He had 7 seconds to get the ball down the court and get the shot – look, he got the shot he wanted! How does he take too much time?”

Dykes: “He dillydallied around with that basketball.”

Pargo: “That’s still the shot you want!”

Shumpert grew up in Oak Park, Ill. – not all that far from Pargo’s Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South side, so there may be a little parochial big-brother rhythm going on here. Maybe there’s some unconscious transference, a maligned player bristling at a talking head’s criticism for criticism’s sake – even if it’s not directed at him.

Or maybe it’s just Jeremy Pargo calling them as he sees them. Again.

The swath that Gonzaga cut through the West Coast Conference tournament last week – and into an 11th consecutive berth in the NCAA bracket – didn’t leave much room for subtext. The Zags won, more than convincingly, with both passion and efficiency. That was enough.

That it also seemed to complete the reclamation of their senior point guard was a happy bonus, though such a notion will never be universally accepted no matter what the scoreboard and statistics suggest. In the public domain anymore, a flaw revealed is forever a flaw.

Maybe even to Pargo. His assessment of his 2009: up and down.

The ups: “The winning, the excitement, what we accomplished last week.”

The downs?

“Feeling just like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” he said.

That feeling struck, of course, in Seattle, when several galling turnovers helped Connecticut recover and force an overtime to steal what would have been a benchmark victory for the Zags. Pargo was inconsolable afterward, and his performances began to fray until the lowest moment: the Spokane Arena beatdown by Memphis.

That he didn’t let his struggle define his season is a pretty good endorsement of his will. The Pargo on display in Las Vegas compared favorably to the one who was MVP of the Old Spice Classic in November and WCC Player of the Year last season. Still, it made the two-month ordeal all the more baffling.

Did he lose confidence?

“You’re throwing some zingers at me,” he said. “But yeah, I did.

“I questioned myself on a lot of things that I would never do in the past, and listened to people I shouldn’t listen to – just listening to people talk. I lost sight of what made me successful and what made this team successful.”

To those who set their clocks to the Zags, success is now assumed, and so it probably doesn’t seem odd that Jeremy Pargo was never quite enough for a small segment of Zagdom. Many more appreciated the leap of faith it took for him to come “to a place where you see no one like you or who can relate to what you’ve been through growing up” – and appreciated his game, his determination and perhaps most of all his charisma.

You can crunch numbers and find he’s worthy of mention with Gonzaga’s best at his position, but beyond that he is without question the most stand-up of Zags – and given the forthright characters who have come and gone this incredible decade, that’s saying something.

His effort against Memphis was “embarrassing.” Against UConn, he “played like I was a third-grader against college guys.”

He is singularly unsparing, at least when it comes to himself.

“You can’t lie,” he said. “It was as clear as day. I’m making mistakes that I normally wouldn’t make and I couldn’t sit there and lie to myself.

“A lot of times, you’ll play horrible and you get 10 text messages from people saying, ‘Good game, great game.’ No, not great game. Don’t lie – I’m not dumb enough to believe it. I know when I play well and I know when I play bad. I hate it when people say, ‘You’re fine.’ No, you’re not fine. I made mistakes I needed to clean up, and you can’t be successful unless you do.”

So he and the Zags cleaned up last weekend. Carrying it over into this week at the NCAA tournament is the trick, and the truth is, the wait has been killing Pargo.

“I don’t like watching everyone else play while we sit here,” he said. “I wish I was playing in the Big East – I wish our team could play in the Big East. In fact, I wouldn’t mind playing in our conference tournament and then going and playing in the Big East tournament, too.”

It’s always about the next game, the next statement, the next chance to prove himself. Gonzaga will miss that about Jeremy Pargo.



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