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G-League is latest stop on Jeremy Pargo’s excellent basketball adventure

Former Gonzaga standout Jeremy Pargo is averaging more than 15 points per game for the NBA G-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors this season. (SCW Photos / Courtesy)
By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

FRISCO, Texas – After spending much of his professional career overseas, Jeremy Pargo is again stateside with the NBA G-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors.

First-year head coach Kris Weems is happy to have the 33-year-old Gonzaga product on board.

“I think he brings a good, positive energy to every practice, every workout. He loves the game, so that comes out,” Weems said. “We had him a couple years ago, played maybe the last 18 games with us and he was the same way. He was coming off an injury then, trying to get himself right and probably wasn’t in the shape he wanted to be in, but he was still performing at a high level. Now he’s in better shape. He’s motivated.”

Pargo played for the Bulldogs from 2005 through 2009. Since leaving Spokane, he has embarked on a journey that can best be called a basketball odyssey. The younger brother of former NBA player Jannero Pargo, now an assistant coach with Portland, he followed in his brother’s footsteps, playing 83 games in the NBA for the Cavs, Grizzlies and Sixers.

He might have done his best work abroad, playing in Israel, Russia, China, Italy and Lebanon. It was his tenure with well-known Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he was part of back-to-back Israeli League championships in 2018 and 2019, two of four titles he’s won there, and earned various awards, that sticks out most.

“Playing in Israel for five seasons, it’s kind of hard to beat that. Israel has always been the prime location for me because it’s great weather, a lot of English, not a really big country but a really small, tight-knit country,” Pargo said. “It’s very Americanized. It’s a place that I’ve become accustomed to and I don’t mind it. It’s OK.”

One reason he enjoyed his five seasons in Tel Aviv was because it had a vibe not unlike what he’d experienced in Spokane.

“Family is the first thing that comes to mind (when I think of Gonzaga),” Pargo said. “It’s kind of like Israel. It’s a small community but very tight knit. That’s a big thing up there in that (Gonzaga) community. They’re big on their basketball. Just like in Israel, they’re big on their basketball. They support the school. We were happy to be able to play in front of guys and give those guys the joy that we can when we can.”

But this is not his first swim through the G-League. Pargo was also with Santa Cruz almost two years ago when he was recovering from injury. Weems was an assistant coach on that team. Now that Jeremy is back in the fold, he’s been impressed with the veteran leadership he’s seen from the oldest player on his roster.

“The leadership is important, but I think just showing the love for the game and wanting to be out there is a good example for our younger guys who are striving to have a career as long and successful as his,” Weems said.

Besides strong veteran leadership, Pargo also brings a veteran toughness gained from his experiences abroad and in the NBA to what is a young Santa Cruz squad, another trait his new head coach likes to see.

“He’s not afraid of a challenge, whether it’d be on the defensive end or the offensive end. Obviously, he’s a talented scorer, but he’s also over the years learned how to play point guard and learned how to get guys organized,” Weems said. “I try to use the best parts of his skill set – his strength, his toughness going to the basket. He doesn’t need to blow by guys to get his shot off, and he’s actually probably a better distributor than people give him credit for.

“If you’re a veteran guy and you can score, sometimes you don’t give it up. But I’ve asked him to do it from the very start, and he continues to throw the ball ahead and put pressure on the defense. And then, when it comes back to him, he can be a scorer.”

Pargo is more than six years removed from logging his last NBA minutes, which came in 2013 with Philadelphia. Some might lament a short NBA resume, but this ex-Zag sees the glass as half full, taking his 83 games in the league for what they are – a great experience.

“A dream come true really, that’s what it was,” Pargo said. “You grow up as a kid from the city of Chicago or anywhere in the states and you play basketball your goal is to make it to the NBA. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to do it. It was a short stint. Wish it was longer, but life goes on. You play basketball or you figure out something else to do in life. Luckily, I’m still here playing at the age I am right now.”

When Weems was asked if Pargo still has plenty to offer an NBA team should one choose to sign him, the Santa Cruz coach answered with an emphatic yes.

Pargo concurs that a second shot at the NBA isn’t out of the question.

“I think I have a lot to offer anyone. Just playing it day-by-day, playing where I can and doing the best I can at every opportunity,” he said.

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.