Wasn’t easy, but Pan­gos fi­nally re­turns to Canada’s na­tional team

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - SPORTS - Lori Ewing

MON­TREAL — Kevin Pan­gos was look­ing for­ward to his first ap­pear­ance with Canada’s bas­ket­ball team in years. He went to great lengths with his new club FC Barcelona to be able to play. But for a few mo­ments ear­lier this week, the 25-year-old point guard must have won­dered if he’d make it to Mon­treal at all.

Pan­gos was en route from Spain to Mon­treal when his plane was forced to make an emer­gency land­ing in St. John’s, N.L. He and his fel­low pas­sen­gers were told to quickly read through the safety in­struc­tions and then as­sume the crash po­si­tion.

“I saw the flight at­ten­dant, she was try­ing to play it cool, but her smile didn’t look so real, that made me a lit­tle ner­vous,” Pan­gos. “Every­one was kind of pan­ick­ing on the plane, think­ing like, this doesn’t sound so good. It was fright­en­ing.”

He tried to text his fam­ily, but didn’t have cell­phone ser­vice.

Pas­sen­gers were even­tu­ally told there’d been a smell of smoke in the cock­pit.

Pan­gos fi­nally ar­rived in Mon­treal in the early hours of Tues­day. Sit­ting in a univer­sity gym in down­town Mon­treal mo­ments af­ter his prac­tice with Canada, the Gon­zaga prod­uct talked about his de­ter­mi­na­tion to help his na­tional team in Thurs­day’s World Cup qual­i­fy­ing game against Brazil.

Pan­gos led Lithua­nian team Zal­giris Kau­nas to its first EuroLeague Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ance in 19 years last spring, and then was signed by Barcelona, one of the world’s top pro­fes­sional pro­grams. The con­tract process in­cluded a lot of back-and-forth to con­vince the club to al­low him to play for Canada.

“They sent an email say­ing we un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this to you,” said Pan­gos. “So it was all dis­cussed, and when I got there it wasn’t easy, but we had to dis­cuss it so both sides could be happy and this was the com­pro­mise we came to — less days of camp.”

Pan­gos has been train­ing with Barcelona for a cou­ple of weeks, and al­ready played an ex­hi­bi­tion tour­na­ment with his new team. De­spite be­ing bleary-eyed from barely any sleep, the na­tive of Hol­land Land­ing, Ont., was all smiles about join­ing his Cana­dian team­mates.

“I just wanted to rep­re­sent the coun­try. Com­ing back here, it’s like a fam­ily, all these guys at a young age I ei­ther played with or played for, the coaches, the ther­a­pists and stuff, that’s No. 1, just wear­ing Canada on your chest,” Pan­gos said. “It felt like some­thing that was re­ally im­por­tant, I haven’t had a chance for a while, and it’s al­ways such an hon­our, and when I saw this win­dow and I saw the im­por­tance of these games as well it was some­thing I re­ally wanted to do.”

Pan­gos has been side­lined by in­jury or con­flicts for a few years. Rack­ing his brain Tues­day, he couldn’t re­call the last time he wore the red and white jersey. He does re­call grow­ing up it was al­ways the part of his sum­mer he looked for­ward to most.

“It was a com­mit­ment I did ev­ery year,” he said. “I did it from the youngest age group ev­ery sum­mer un­til I was 19 or so and then I just haven’t been able to in a while. For me it was some­thing I al­ways loved to do.”

Pan­gos was a key part of Canada’s team that won bronze at the 2010 U17 world cham­pi­onships, earn­ing all-tour­na­ment team hon­ours.

“It’s just nice to have Kevin back, he’s been with us for so long,” said Cana­dian coach Roy Rana, who also coached that U17 bronzemedal team. “He’s just such a savvy veteran, now he re­ally un­der­stands how to play. With him in the back­court with Cory (Joseph), whether it’s them shar­ing it or play­ing off of each other, it’s a re­ally nice thing to have.”

Long­time EuroLeague star Juan Car­los Navarro just re­tired from Barcelona, open­ing up what Pan­gos hopes is “more op­por­tu­nity” with his new club.

“They haven’t had the sea­son they’ve wanted to the last cou­ple of years, so it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for me to step in there and help get some wins and help build a suc­cess­ful pro­gram,” he said. “That be­ing said I’m just ex­cited to be part of such a great club and get as many wins as we can.”

The Cana­di­ans, who went 5-1 through the first round of qual­i­fy­ing, will fly to Chile for their sec­ond game of this win­dow Sept. 17.

The fi­nal two qual­i­fy­ing win­dows see Canada play at Venezuela on Nov. 30 and Brazil on Dec. 3. Canada will host Chile on Feb. 21 and Venezuela on Feb. 24.

The World Cup is Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 in China.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS files

Zal­giris’ Kevin Pan­gos tries to score dur­ing a Fi­nal Four Euroleague semi­fi­nal in Bel­grade, Ser­bia, in May. Pan­gos, now play­ing for FC Barcelona, had it writ­ten in his con­tract that he’d be re­leased to play for Canada in Thurs­day’s World Cup qual­i­fy­ing game against Brazil.

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