Ryan Spangler thought he might never make it back to Spokane – at least to play basketball.
That changed Sunday when his Oklahoma Sooners were assigned to Spokane to begin the NCAA tournament.
Since Spangler is back he wants to make the most of it.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward spent about an hour catching up with one of his former Gonzaga teammates, Kevin Pangos, Tuesday night.
An Oklahoma native, Spangler signed with Gonzaga in the 2011 class that included Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Kyle Dranginis. He played in 22 games as a true freshman, averaging 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds.
As the year wore on, though, Spangler got homesick. So he asked Zags coach Mark Few to be released from his scholarship.
“It was a good decision to come here,” Spangler said Wednesday outside the Sooners’ locker room at the Spokane Arena.
It was a decision trumped by an even better change of mind.
“It was nice playing here, I had a great time, but I needed to get closer to my family,” he said. “It’s one of the best decisions I made in my life, coming to Oklahoma.”
A day after Few granted Spangler his release, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger called Spangler.
“He asked me to come on a recruiting trip,” Spangler said. “I went down there about two weeks later and committed that day.”
By NCAA rules, Spangler had to sit out last year. He practiced with the Sooners, going against 6-8 forward Romero Osby, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic.
“He’s a strong (forward) – undersized but crafty,” Spangler said. “He can jump out of the gym. Being able to guard him really helped me.”
As did going against Zags center Rob Sacre, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, as a freshman.
“Going against Rob made me the physical player I am and the way I rebound,” Spangler said. Spangler has averaged 9.8 points and led the Big 12 with 9.4 rebounds. In his first collegiate start, he had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“He’s had a huge impact,” Kruger said. “He led the conference in rebounding (and has) great instincts for the ball in that area. He’s scored for us in double figures but more importantly than that he’s given us a level of toughness (and) competitiveness that has elevated everyone else.”
Spangler enjoyed his visit with Pangos.
“That’s my boy. He will always be one of my best friends,” Spangler said. “We talked about hanging out in the summer if we can get a chance. We hung out for an hour before I had to get back and get to bed.”
Spangler will always have fond memories of Spokane and being a Zag.
“I loved it up here,” he said. “I made some great friends. I learned some things about basketball that I didn’t know. Being able to play under Coach Few, (he’s) one of the best coaches. I learned things from him and he made me a better player.”