Gonzaga’s Top Dogs: Canadians Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer


Gonzaga’s Top Dogs: Canadians Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer

The Gonzaga University Men’s Basketball team has qualified for the NCAA tournament (more affectionately known as March Madness) every season for the past 16 years. They can thank their most recent run of success to a handful of Canadian players. The last couple of Bulldogs teams were led by current Canadian NBA players Robert Sacre (2007-2012) and Kelly Olynyk (2010-2013). This year’s team is no different as it is led by two talented Canadians in Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer.

Feb 26, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) brings the ball down court against the San Diego Toreros during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 59-39. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Pangos, a senior point guard from Holland Landing, Ontario, is the engine that runs the team. This season, he averaged 11.6 points and 5 assists a game to lead the 27-2 Bulldogs to the West Coast Conference regular season title. For his stellar play, Pangos was named the Conference Player of the Year along with being named an All-Conference First Team selection for the fourth straight season.

It seems as if all these awards and accolades were meant to happen after being tabbed (albeit quite an exaggeration) as ‘The Next Steve Nash.’ As a prep playing for Dr. Dennison High School in Newmarket, Pangos was one of the most sought after (not to mention homegrown) Canadian high school basketball players in recent memory. He ultimately chose Gonzaga over a host of other Division 1 schools, thanks in large part to a recommendation from Olynyk. In just his second collegiate game, Pangos announced his arrival with a 33 point performance, including a school record 9 three pointers. A starter the moment he stepped on campus, it’s safe to say Pangos took full advantage of his opportunity and ran with it.

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For teammate and fellow Canadian Kyle Wiltjer, the path to Gonzaga was much different. For starters, Wiltjer was a five-star recruit (Pangos was only considered a three-star recruit) according to every recruiting analyst. In other words, he had his pick of pretty much any university in the U.S.

Feb 28, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) makes a three-pointer against the Brigham Young Cougars during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Cougars won 73-70. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Wiltjer ultimately chose to play for coach John Calipari at the University of Kentucky along with fellow five-star recruits and current NBA players Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. That stacked Kentucky team went on to win the NCAA Championship in Wiltjer’s freshman year. Despite the team success, Wiltjer was stuck at the bottom of a very deep roster. He played only 11 minutes per game as a freshman and 23 minutes as a sophomore. The lack in playing time and the desire to compete the way he knew he was capable of would eventually prompt Wiltjer to transfer to Gonzaga.

Fast forward to the present. Wiltjer averaged 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds a game this season, on his way to being named the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year. He finally had the chance to compete at a high level and responded by leading the team in scoring and being named one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award (given to the nation’s player of the year).

Unlike their high school careers, Pangos and Wiltjer’s projected careers as NBA players are looking more and more similar: Decorated collegiate careers that don’t necessarily translate to NBA success. While it’s no question that either player can flat out play ball, it remains to be seen if either one can keep up in the ultra-athletic NBA.

Most mock draft websites have both players going undrafted in this year and next year’s NBA drafts. Despite being a steady point guard and an elite perimeter shooter, the knock on Pangos continues to be his limited physical profile. At 6’2 and 186 pounds, Pangos isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism. He’s a step slower than many highly ranked collegiate (and American high school) point guards and you sure as hell wouldn’t see Pangos doing anything like this.

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  • However, all is not lost if Pangos does set his sights on the NBA. Whichever team takes a flyer on him will be rewarded with a point guard with a high basketball IQ, who can come off to efficiently run an offense. Think a slightly thinner Jose Calderon, but scrappier on defense.

    Fortunately for Wiltjer, his NBA projections seem to be a little brighter. At 6’9 and an excellent three point shooter, he fits the mold of the modern day ‘stretch four.’ For that alone, Wiltjer could very well sneak into the latter parts of the second round. But just like many stretch fours in the NBA, Wiltjer also struggles on defense. He’s not athletic enough to cover the wing players in the NBA and continuously gets overpowered by bigger and stronger traditional power forwards. For someone his size, Wiltjer is also a below average rebounder.

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    Going into the NCAA Tournament, the Gonzaga Bulldogs should be just as confident as any team in the country. They have only lost two game this year: a three point defeat at #3 Arizona and a three point loss to conference rival Brigham Young. Their solid record should be enough to solidify them a high rank for the tournament and maybe even a coveted number one ranking. In the past, Gonzaga was everyone’s favourite Cinderella team. This year, they won’t be sneaking up on anybody and anything less than a Sweet Sixteen birth should be looked at as a disappointment. Either way, the Bulldogs will go as far as their two Canadians will take them.