Today, all is sunny in the Gonzaga constellation. The Zags are in their accustomed spot in the NCAA tournament, about to play Oklahoma State on Friday for the right to keep suiting up in San Diego.
Soon, though, their run will end, and perhaps then it will be more piercing — how much better it could have all been with a healthy Kevin Pangos.
As the team bus idled last week outside Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where Gonzaga had just beaten BYU for the WCC title, Pangos was keeping a stiff upper lip. It’s become something of a Zag tradition that even when one’s personal affairs aren’t what they could be, the team is still the thing.
So Pangos said: “Yeah, it’s been up and down. I’m trying to pick my spots, do what I can to help my team win. We have a great record right now and we’re going to the NCAA tournament.
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“Although my personal stats might not be the way I want them to be, or although I’m not hitting the shots or making the plays I want to, I’m just as happy as I was last year.”
It’s easy to think that Gonzaga is whole now that Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower Jr. are back from injuries, but that’s not really true. Pangos, the junior guard who is the team’s most dynamic perimeter scorer, has been only a vague facsimile of the player that began the season, owing to a persistent case of “turf toe,” compounded later by ankle problems.
The Pangos of early season was nothing like the version out there now. He had 27 points against Washington State, 27 against Dayton in Maui, and 34 in the last game of that tournament against Arkansas.
He was then an elite player. He had become much more than the deadeye perimeter shooter who made the All-WCC team his first two years; now he was using the dribble to score.
Then one day in December, he jammed a toe — the dreaded football-common injury that waylays whole seasons. It’s a sprain of ligaments at the base of the big toe, and rest is important to treat it.
This was Pangos’ rest: 35 minutes per game this season, up from his first two seasons.
“He wasn’t able to do the things he was doing early in the year,” said his father Bill, the women’s coach at York University in Toronto. “It affected his mobility, his change of speed, his ability to get into the lane, it affected his balance. You just can’t accelerate and change directions.
“As a guard, he needs his feet.”
They’ve tried everything on Pangos: Acupuncture, a chiropractor, physical therapy, and what Bill Pangos calls a “contraption“ inside a shoe half a size larger than the other one. All of it has only helped, not healed.
All that time Pangos would normally spend working out, he was rehabbing.
“That’s the part that troubles me most this year,” Pangos said. “I love getting in the gym, I love to spend hours and hours to work on my craft. With this injury, I have to be smart. I can’t overdo it. It’s just been a different schedule for me overall.”
His shooting numbers, .429 overall and .411 on threes, are remarkably similar to his first two years, but those are deceiving. They’ve landed in the middle of a blistering start and a tailing finish. In his past 13 games, he’s shooting .355 and .316, and the player who would otherwise be Gonzaga’s leading scorer hasn’t hit double figures in seven of those games.
Said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, “It’s certainly not from a lack of preparation or anything like that.”
In the last two games against Saint Mary’s and BYU, Pangos attempted only six shots as they crowded him on the perimeter.
“Knowing he’s injured and can’t attack, they’re closing out even more aggressively,” said his father, “making him put the ball on the floor.”
Even in a trying season, Pangos might be one of the unsung factors in his team’s success. With Bell and Dower out for a spell, Gonzaga couldn’t afford to be without Pangos.
“I’m proud of the way he’s dealt with it, and in the fact he’s still helping the team in the capacity the coaches want him to help,” his father said. “And he’s tough enough mentally to fight through the situation.”
Pangos has occasionally gone off, toe notwithstanding. He banged three late treys in a span of 1:47 to thwart West Virginia in December, and hit five straight threes in the second half against BYU on Jan. 25.
“Yeah, I have my games,” said Pangos, smiling. “Maybe I’ll have some later on.”
|Kevin Pangos, by the numbers|
|Kevin Pangos has been battling injuries all season. A look at his numbers this season, by month:|
|Month||Games||FG Pct||3-pt pct||PPG|
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org