Gonzaga sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos called it the highlight of his summer.
Pangos, teammate Kelly Olynyk and ex-Zag Robert Sacre were among 27 players to attend the Canadian senior national team’s five-day training camp in late August in Toronto. Pangos tested his skills alongside NBA players Joel Anthony, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph while absorbing instruction from two-time MVP Steve Nash, who is general manager of Canada basketball, and head coach Jay Triano.
“When I got invited it was one of the best things that could happen,” said Pangos, shortly before Gonzaga’s first official practice last Friday. “Just working with NBA guys and Steve Nash, getting individual time just to talk to him. Everyone that is big in basketball in Canada was there. I had a lot of fun in five days.”
Pangos has long admired Nash, whose first assist as a Los Angeles Laker went to fellow British Columbia native Sacre in a recent exhibition game. Nash, an eight-time NBA All-Star, was twice named West Coast Conference Player of the Year for Santa Clara in the mid-1990s.
“It was the subtle things, just talking to him and watching him do drills, just the way he moved,” said Pangos, who is from Holland Landing, roughly 40 miles north of Toronto. “It wasn’t one thing that stood out, it was general things I could try to pick up on. His professionalism is contagious.”
Pangos spent the summer trying to expand his game. He earned All-WCC honors as a freshman after averaging 31.6 minutes, 13.6 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game– all team highs. He made 79 of 197 3-pointers (40.1 percent).
“I worked on getting stronger and I really worked on a lot of different moves, trying to get into the paint, set up my teammates and get my own shot and not rely on catching and shooting as much,” Pangos said. “Just be a threat.”
Gonzaga has at least five options at the “3,” or small forward position.
The Bulldogs could go big, with 6-foot-8, 239-pound Elias Harris sliding over from his usual power forward position, which would open up more time at the “4” and “5” for Sam Dower, Olynyk and Przemek Karnowski. They could go with two players who split starting duties a year ago: athletic wing Guy Landry Edi or Mike Hart, whose specialties are defense and rebounding.
They could turn to newcomer Drew Barham, a 6-6 transfer from Memphis whose perimeter shooting has impressed the coaching staff. They could insert 6-5 redshirt freshman Kyle Dranginis, who has a solid all-around game.
“Elias could possibly play it,” head coach Mark Few said. “That’ll be the one spot that we’ll really be challenging them on their performance and determining a lot of the playing time.”
With a deep roster, it’ll be interesting to see how the playing rotation evolves at every position. The 7-foot Olynyk, who redshirted last season, gives GU front-court flexibility.
“These guys have earned their time, now it’s just about kind of sharing time,” Few said. “They’ve all put their work in and had a great summer and fall. Some of them have really had nice careers already, if you look at ‘E’ (Elias).
“It’s more about getting them in the right spots, figuring out the rotations and making sure not to mess with rhythm. But all these guys can play.”
Follow the leaders
The graduation of Sacre creates an opportunity for others to step into leadership roles. Few expects it to be handled “by committee,” mentioning Harris, Pangos, Olynyk and Gary Bell Jr.
“He (Sacre) was a one-of-a-kind guy,” Pangos said. “The whole dynamic is going to be a little different. Everyone is going to take a turn.”
Sacre “brought energy to practice every day,” junior forward Dower said. “Those will be big shoes to fill, but Kevin and Elias are up for the challenge.”